Examining how the New York Rangers Alternate Captains can be more effective
The New York Rangers have yet to name a captain, and in the aftermath of recent incidents some have questioned if they need to soon. In this article, I will examine the Rangers’ captain situation using the first “Principle of Leadership” coined by Brad D. Smith at linkedin.com. His first point deals with potential.
His article on potential as a principle of leadership can be found here.
The main argument in a hockey context
In his post about potential, Smith makes the argument that someone with a title may be nothing more than that. A true leader requires substance to back up their title. He also argues that a leader must focus on the growing process of those around them as opposed to the current performance and final product. Finally, Smith proposes that a leader is someone who works with their people as opposed to judging them.
The Rangers currently have four alternate captains (Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba), each an appropriate selection. However, with this young team, it may make more sense to name one of them captain to give the team a bit more structure. Putting Smith’s points into a hockey context can help to determine who would be most effective in the role. The first point deals with focusing on the growth of employees. In this scenario, it will be applied to the Rangers’ younger players.
David Quinn made it clear that this is exactly what they intend to do with Kaapo Kakko. Leadership stems from the coach and must be passed to the captain as well. In the Rangers’ case, alternate captains. While we as fans get little insight as to what happens in the locker room or what the relationships between players are like, it is most likely that none of the alternate captains are straying from this philosophy. The cliché of no one being harder on a player than himself is also probably holding true. The captains and coaching staff seem to be more focused on helping Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and others get to where they could be instead of the fact that they’re not quite there yet.
According to Brad Smith, a true leader must put in the work to help their people improve instead of simply throwing out encouraging statements. When the rebuild was first announced, it was reported that Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad convened to discuss exactly what their plan was to accomplish this. Now they are both alternate captains, meaning the organization feels they have been successful in their efforts.
Participating in the growth of a young team
Kreider and Zibanejad, along with Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin are NHL veterans among a plethora of young and newer players. Even someone like Pavel Buchnevich who has been with the team for a few years may still require the guidance of more experienced players. It is undeniable that players such as Kakko, Lafreniere, and K’Andre Miller have plenty of potential. The question is, which of these Rangers mentors would do the best job bringing it out?
In his post, Smith says “greatness exists in all of us, and a leader’s job is to create an environment where that greatness can emerge.” Upon reading this, I immediately related it to Chris Kreider. It has become a well-known fact that rookies and other young players embrace the opportunity to work with Kreider. Particularly, they seek his advice for off-ice training and find it helpful to work out with him. Further, Kreider tends to regulate the mood of the team to a degree.
In his press conference on January 30th after an overtime loss to Pittsburgh, Kreider was visibly frustrated with losing yet another one-goal game. During Ryan Strome’s press conference on Thursday after a 4-2 win over Washington, Kreider kept the mood light by pranking Strome. The contrast between these actions demonstrates Kreider’s ability to be the soul of this team.
After that loss to the Penguins, Kreider spoke about the need for everyone to “hate losing.” This is something that must be instilled in every player in order to have a winning attitude. Preaching this kind of mindset while also creating an atmosphere for young players to thrive makes him a logical choice for captain.
Veteran players must share their experiences
Another main point Smith makes is that it isn’t enough for a leader to stand on the sidelines and cheer for their people. They need to be actively involved. Smith argues that “sometimes the answer is not to simply offer constructive feedback or praise… Sometimes the answer is to stand shoulder to shoulder, work the issue together, role modeling, supporting and teaching along the way.” Kreider, Zibanejad, Trouba, and Panarin are seasoned players with a variety of experiences. The learning curve looks different for everyone, but it can only be useful for these four to share their stories with the younger players.
Different situations require different solutions. The four alternate captains must have a diverse set of strategies between them. They know at least part of what the young players are experiencing because they’ve already lived it. It is now necessary for them to employ their knowledge, pass it on, and work closely with these newer potential-filled players.