Since the trading of former captain Ryan McDonagh in 2018, there have been some unknowns when it came to the Ranger’s “leadership group”.
McDonagh, along with teammate J.T. Miller, was one of the first pieces to go following the announcement of the rebuild two years ago. Since then, what used to be the “core” of the Rangers has been seriously altered.
Currently, the Rangers alternate captaincy is as follows: Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, and Mika Zibanejad.
This is the same leadership group as last year (following the trade of Mats Zuccarello); However, with Jesper Fast at the end of his contract as an unrestricted free agent, and Marc Staal with just one year remaining, there are decisions to be made.
Over the past few years, Mika Zibanejad has emerged as the frontrunner for the ‘C’, whenever that may be decided, because of his outstanding leadership qualities on and off the ice.
He’s become a staple for the future of the New York Rangers, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be strongly considered for the next captain of the Blueshirts.
The Rangers made it clear this past February that current alternate captain Chris Kreider is an important piece of the Rangers rebuild. Kreider, along with Staal, Fast, and Henrik Lundqvist, is one of the longest-tenured Ranger’s, making his debut back in 2013. Kreider played an integral role for the Blueshirts run for the Cup back in 2014 and helped lead the way during their President’s Trophy season in 2015. Kreider has played 523 regular-season games in New York, amounting to 316 points, as well as playing in 77 playoff games. Kreider has had a great presence in the locker room for years, and by locking him up at the deadline, he will be a great leader on the Rangers for years to come.
Jesper Fast has 422 career NHL games under his belt, each one of them as a New York Ranger. For 4 consecutive seasons, he’s been the recipient of the Players’ Player Award as the player who (voted on by his teammates) “best exemplifies what it means to be a team player.” It goes without questioning that Fast is a leader and a team player but as mentioned earlier, his future with the team is uncertain, especially when considering the effects that COVID will have on the salary cap.
Fortunately, even with the lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the salary cap for the upcoming season will likely remain at $81.5 million. This complicates things for the Rangers, as they’ll need to deal with a few of their RFAs, including Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome. This could essentially kick Fast out of the picture. Though he’s played his heart out for the Rangers these past 7 years, he’ll probably leave the Blueshirts to come free agency, as he’ll likely want more than what the Rangers can offer. This will definitely be a loss in the leadership department for the Rangers.
2020-21 will be the final year on both Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist’s contracts. Staal, a current alternate captain, has spent the last 13 years with the Blueshirts. He’s the second longest-tenured Ranger behind Lundqvist.
He’s repped the ‘A’ for a few years and has remained as one of the few true veterans on the team. As for Lundqvist, he has been the backbone of the Rangers since making his debut in 2005. And although goalies cannot be named captain, Lundqvist has been a leader in the locker room for the past 10 years. He’s been the face of the franchise for over a decade, setting countless franchise records.
If Hank could’ve worn the ‘C’ in the 2010s, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have. So where do we go from here? The Rangers will have plenty of decisions to make with the loss of Fast (not definite, but likely), Staal, and Lundqvist.
The first order of business is to name Zibanejad the captain. He’s truly solidified himself as a first-line center and is a cornerstone in the locker room.
Though he will need a contract extension in a couple of years, he will be a priority to sign (and the Rangers won’t have some of their scarier contracts by then).
To join Kreider as alternate captains could be Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin. Trouba will be a New York Ranger through the 2025-26 season, making $8 million per year. This massive contract by Jeff Gorton displays great trust and confidence in the blueliner, although he didn’t have a stellar first year. The ‘A’ was sewn on Trouba’s jersey for a handful of games this season, and I believe as he continues to grow under the Rangers’ system, he will provide guidance for the surplus of defensive prospects coming down the pipeline.
Panarin has shown how valuable to the franchise he will be in the coming years, after having an MVP caliber season. He’s already become a mentor for some of the younger Russians on the team, including Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin.
Making $11.6 million per year and putting up the high 80s and 90s in points, Panarin should be given the ‘A’ because of his ability to be a team player and improve the players around him.
It will be an interesting New York Rangers team without leaders like Fast, Staal, and Lundqvist, but the future is bright for the Rangers as they continue to build a championship-winning roster.
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