The Rangers Future Belongs to Kreider and Zibanejad

Kreider and Zibanejad (Getty images)
USA Today

The NHL’s annual league-wide auction commonly known as the trade deadline has come and gone. The New York Rangers, as expected, jettisoned their three pending unrestricted free agents for an assortment of high draft picks and younger players. Adam McQuaid was shipped off to Ohio’s state capital. Kevin Hayes was sent to the frozen tundra of Canada’s “Great White North.” Mats Zuccarello traded in his Metro Card and Subway map for a cowboy hat, spurs and some authentic down home Texas chili. By far, the diminutive Norwegian’s departure was the most painful for Rangerstown as one saddened Ranger fan after another took to social media to express their thanks, gratitude and well-wishes for the perennial Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award candidate.

Whether you agree with the sequel to last year’s roster purge or not; whether you feel the bounty received for these popular former Blueshirts was adequate; whether you feel the future of your beloved hockey team is promising, what’s done is done and the Garden Faithful must put away their collective handkerchiefs and move on.

With the moves that were made – and those that weren’t made – over these last several days, the Rangers management team have stated, unequivocally, that they are going to build the team, up front, around stalwart forwards Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad; both of whom are in the midst of career seasons. While we will never know the validity of the Chris Kreider trade rumors that were running rampant around the Twitter-sphere from various NHL “insiders”, the fact is that #20 is still very much a member of the franchise that selected him in the first round, 19th overall, in 2009. As for Zibanejad, who may very well be playing under the most cap-friendly contract in the entire league with still three years remaining at the bargain basement price of just over $5 million AAV, there were no such rumors of anything even resembling a trade.

Zibanejad and Kreider have developed terrific chemistry both on the ice and off. They are linemates that have given the Rangers a consistent one-two punch the likes of which has rarely been seen around these parts. Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander they aren’t, but the way both have been playing, there is a definite ceiling that has yet to be reached by these two budding stars. Kreider, 27 and Zibanejad, 25, are smack dab in the middle of their primes and are flourishing at the perfect time for a franchise in desperate need of legitimate, top-tier players.

It is the belief of this author that one of these two fantastic players will become the next captain of the New York Rangers. The question is, which one? I’d like to know who you feel is most deserving of being announced as the captain at next season’s home opener come October 2019. A case can certainly be made for either. Kreider is a home-grown Ranger and has the seniority edge. Each and every one of his 443 NHL games and 131 goals were while wearing the red, white, and blue. Kreider is the lone remaining forward from the 2012 squad that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Kreider is the prototypical bull-in-a-china-shop whose combination of size, muscle, and speed makes him darn near impossible to defend when he is on his game. Kreider has endeared himself to the Garden Faithful with his work ethic, skating ability and very likable personality. He has all the makings of a quality captain.

Mika Zibanejad was acquired from the Ottawa Senators for another very popular former Ranger, Derick Brassard, in the summer of 2016. Mika’s early days as a member of the Blueshirts were marred by an assortment of unfortunate injuries which included concussions and a broken leg. Now completely healthy, Zibanejad has blossomed right before our very eyes and is on pace to become the first Ranger since Marian Gaborik in 2009-10 to eclipse the 80-point plateau. Is the native of Sweden with Iranian ancestry that elusive 1C that the Rangers have been missing since the aforementioned Nylander was helping Jagr re-write the team’s record books over a decade ago? It certainly appears to be the case. Along with his burgeoning and increasingly impressive stat-line, Zibanejad also has charismatic qualities that go part and parcel with being a team captain. Mika has an aura. Mika has a presence. And, let’s be honest, this is New York City. This is Madison Square Garden. This is where hyperbole has laid down its roots. This is where pomp and circumstance are a virtual requirement. Zibanejad, who moonlights as a successful DJ in his spare time, was tailor-made for the bright lights of the big city. He has all the makings of a quality team captain.

So, which do you feel would make the better captain? The lunch pail toting, head down, I’m here to do my job and go home, Chris Kreider? Or, the flamboyant, perpetually smiling, multi-talented Mika Zibanejad? Zibanejad is the better all-around player, but Kreider is the third most tenured Ranger behind only Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist. This is a fascinating debate that is sure to exhume strong opinions either way. I will sit back and read your various comments and opinions about whom should succeed Ryan McDonagh as the next captain of the New York Rangers.