August 09, 2011
The departure of Chris Drury(notes) means the New York Rangers are one of eight NHL teams without a captain, a role that carries with it some standard functionality and a hefty amount of symbolism. Which makes the Rangers' eventual choice for the 'C' a fascinating one.
The top three candidates, as indentified by Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record, are 26-year-old winger Ryan Callahan(notes), whom he writes "assumed the role of de facto captain last season" when Drury was injured; 24-year-old defenseman Marc Staal(notes), the defensive rock on the Rangers' blueline; and 31-year-old Brad Richards(notes), the big free-agent prize (9 years, $60 million) who was an alternate captain with the Dallas Stars and won a Conn Smythe with the Tampa Bay Lightning under some dude named John Tortorella.
That's one reason why, according to Gross, Richards might have the inside track to becoming the 27th captain in Rangers history, joining names like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Brad Park and Jaromir Jagr(notes) (!). From Gross:
Callahan was the presumed successor to Drury once the season ends but after signing a three-year deal, $12.875 million deal to avoid arbitration, he is a short-timer compared to Richards and Staal, who is signed through 2014-15 at $3.975 million per.
Tortorella was asked June 30 — two days before the team signed Richards — about his selection process for the new captain. "I think those decisions will come about come camp," Tortorella said. "We'll have our talks, we'll see. Maybe our team changes even more this summer, along the way."
That last sentence could be interpreted as a vote in Richards' favor. Or perhaps not, as Tortorella has no inclination to discuss exactly what his selection process entailed.
There is, of course, some precedent in the Rangers giving the captaincy to a high-priced star player before he's spent significant time in a blue shirt: Mark Messier was acquired and given the 'C' in the same week during Oct. 1991, which must rank among the great no-brainers in Rangers history.
This decision is trickier. Do you give the captaincy to Callahan, who plays in every situation and exhibits everything you'd want out of a captain? Do you give it Staal, knowing that the only player that'll be on the ice more than him during a game is Henrik Lundqvist(notes)? Or do you give it to Richards, symbolically acknowledging that this is now his team to lead, by example and in the room?
Personal bias: We like our defensemen to wear the 'C', Nicklas Lidstrom(notes)/Scott Stevens style. But if it came down to Callahan and Richards, it's hard to imagine Torts not giving his former star a welcome gift like the captaincy.