Why the Rangers are in no rush to name a new captain
The Rangers have done this half as many times as they have won the Stanley Cup, so the math is easy enough for a kindergartner.
Twice have the Blueshirts gone wire to wire playing without a captain — this and 2005-06 the seasons. Henrik Lundqvist is the only player here for both of them.
“This year has been very different to begin with, so it’s hard to say whether I’ve noticed a difference without one,” Lundqvist, who will back-up Alexandar Georgiev in Tuesday’s match in Dallas, told The Post. “Actually, it’s felt like a good fit the way we’ve done it, with a few captains and leaders to share the responsibility and to help out.”
The Rangers, without a captain since Ryan McDonagh was traded at last year’s deadline, had gone with five alternates in Marc Staal, Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello. Now there are four.
“I think it has worked well,” Zibanejad said. “It’s never felt weird that we don’t have a captain.”
In 2005-06, the season that followed the cancelation of the previous year, the Rangers went with three alternates in Jaromir Jagr, Steve Rucchin and Darius Kasparaitis. Jagr, who had rejected an offer to wear the “C” largely because he felt his command of the English language would hamper in speaking for the team in the room, accepted it the following season. He did fine.
“I think that it should be an obvious choice when you pick a captain,” said Lundqvist, whose tenure has featured Jagr, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan and McDonagh in that role. “It should be pretty clear who it should be. If you don’t have that individual, you’re probably better off with a few, the way we did it this year.
“It’s a big honor, but it’s also a big responsibility. You don’t want to make a mistake.”
You can’t force it, the way the Rangers might have by naming McDonagh when natural born leader Marty St. Louis was on the roster. But St. Louis had only one season remaining on his contract and retired after 2015-16. You don’t want to name the wrong person, but you also don’t want to have to name three captains in three seasons. Indeed, there is every chance Zuccarello was passed over for the position this year because of his contract situation.
“I don’t know whether it would be the right move to have a captain next year,” Lundqvist said. “I think that’s a decision to be made after you know who’s going to be on the team. You can be successful without one.”
The 2005-06 club, expected to be a bottom feeder, ended the franchise’s seven-year playoff drought. This team has been far more competitive than expected, clocking in with a 27-27-11 record that probably does not quite do justice to the team’s work ethic.
If the Rangers do decide naming a captain would be of benefit to a team that almost certainly will skew younger than this one, Zibanejad and Kreider are the logical candidates. But Kreider has only one year remaining on his contract. Plus, there is suspicion the winger puts enough pressure on himself without adding to it by attaching the “C” to his chest. Zibanejad, blossoming in his third season on Broadway and with a contract commitment that extends through 2021-22, could well be the proper fit.
“I don’t know if that’s really for me to say,” said No. 93, who leads the Rangers with 27 goals, 36 assists and 63 points. “I do know that it’s an honor for me to wear an ‘A’ for an organization that has so much history as an Original Six team, and I take pride in being a leader for not only our young guys but all the players.
“It’s hard to say how anyone would handle any situation before it comes up. I’m sure there’s a learning curve for everyone in that position. Some players would probably try to do too much and would find it a burden.”
Again, Lundqvist isn’t quite making the nominating speech for Zibanejad, but he certainly has been struck by the strides his fellow Swede has taken since coming to New York from Ottawa in the Derick Brassard deal during the summer of 2016.
“The way he has developed as an all-round player and a teammate is very impressive,” Lundqvist said. “He’s always been skilled, but he has taken another step with the way he plays, his preparation and his place on the team.
“Mika has been in the league for such a long time [debuted in 2011-12] that I’m always surprised by how young [26 next month] he is. He has a lot of great qualities.”
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