Will the Rangers revisit their decision on naming a captain this season?

“It’s about the right player at the right time.” Those were the words repeated often by President John Davidson before news broke that the team will not be naming a captain this season. The consensus by fans and experts alike was that Mika Zibanejad would become the 28th captain in franchise history. That didn’t happen but are the Rangers really married to that decision?

The McDonagh Effect

Ryan McDonagh was named the last Rangers captain on October 6th, 2014. At the time McDonagh was 25 years old, and coming off the best season of his career with 14 goals and 43 points in 77 games. He was a leader on and off the ice that wore his heart on his sleeve, as evident when he teared up after a playoff loss to the Washington Capitals. It seemed like the right decision but it didn’t exactly work out that way.

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The burden of the captaincy seemed to effect McDonagh’s personal game. In his first two seasons as captain, McDonagh scored 33 and 34 points respectively. Although, the captaincy may have impacted his on-ice game he was the leader of a team that went to the Eastern Conference Final in his first year as captain. However, they struggled since getting ousted by Pittsburgh in the 1st round of the following season and 2nd round by Ottawa the year after. In his last year as captain, the year of “the letter”, he was traded at the deadline and the Rangers missed the playoffs.

Fast forward to the Rangers Town Hall when JD discussed the captaincy and made some revealing remarks. He said that there was a concern it could be an “unnecessary burden”. JD stressed that they didn’t want to give someone the C and then have to take it away if it’s too much weight on their shoulders. It sounds like a very cautious approach for an organization that recently witnessed up close the adverse impact the captaincy can have on a young player’s game.

Deja Vu All Over Again?

Mika Zibanejad is 26 years old and coming off a career year. He is also a leader on and off the ice for the Rangers. Does any of this sound eerily familiar to you? John Davidson said at the Town Hall that he discussed with Jeff Gorton and David Quinn “heavily” about naming a captain. David Quinn said earlier this offseason he wanted to name one, but the organization opted not to at this time.

Last night, after Mika scored a Hat-Trick and concluded his back to back 4 point efforts to start the season, David Quinn had some insightful comments. “He knows how I feel about him and I’ve told everybody what a great player he is,” Quinn said to reporters in his presser. When Quinn says “everybody” you can easily assume that includes JD and Jeff Gorton. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to say if it was up to Quinn, Mika would be wearing a C on his chest.

Zibanejad continued to show his leadership in his post game interview. You would think after a night where you scored a Hat-Trick on the strength of a PP, ES, and SH goal a little self recognition would be warranted. Instead, Mika went on to praise his teammates which is a sign of a true leader. Mark Messier was asked after game 7 against Vancouver if he had scored the game-winner, his response was epic. “When one of us scores, WE ALL score.”

Zibanejad Deserves To Be Captain

Zibanejad has earned the right to be the next captain. I for one was very critical of him early on, and I am reminded of it on social media every time he scores as fans like to repost this tweet.

Of course, it is Twitter and context has no place there. This was tweeted about 2 weeks after the Rangers were taken out of the playoffs by a very beatable Ottawa team in 2017. Mika Zibanejad, who is also a very talented DJ released his new single “Forever”. While I certainly could have been more tactful in my tweet, the basis for my concern was gathered from reporters who covered him extensively.

I ask you all again, does anyone think Ottawa is stupid? They traded away their 6th overall pick for Derrick Brassard. The decision was primarily because of rumors Mika wanted about $6M on his next contract and coupled with their concerns that he wasn’t dedicated enough to realize his full potential. This was information came from directly talking to reporters based in Ottawa after the Rangers acquired Zibanejad.

Then last night, during the post-game show Steve Valiquette confirmed everything I stated 2 years ago. Valiquette also praised Mika for how far he has come in his off-ice commitment. It isn’t hard to be objective and see that Zibanejad is not the exact same player since the trade. He has worked hard to become a star on Broadway and receive the accolades he’s getting.

Will the Rangers Reconsider?

I have not spoken to anyone around the team with regards to this, but if JD truly believes in the right player at the right time they will reconsider the decision. It is clear, the Rangers have the “right player” in Mika Zibanejad to be named captain. This is a young team with a diverse group of players from North America to Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Mika speaks several languages and has taken young players like Lias Andersson under his wing. David Quinn knows he’s the guy and you have to believe that both JD and Jeff Gorton know it too.

The question becomes, is this the “right time”? If JD was concerned that adding the C to a player’s jersey would impact their play in a negative way, Zibanejad’s hot start may have him rethinking his position. Even though Larry Brooks framed it that the Rangers would not name a captain this season, it doesn’t mean the team can’t change its mind.

Of course, it would be irrational to do this after just two games. What if Zibanejad maintains this offensive pace and overall play as we approach the All-Star break? Would that be the right time to announce it? Mika could very well be representing the Rangers at the All-Star game on January 26th and could do so proudly wearing the C.

For all intents and purposes, Mika is already the “people’s captain” this season. He probably is the “teammates captain” and the “coach’s captain” too. Zibanejad has matured into a superstar player and a superstar person. He is the unofficial captain of the New York Rangers, it is now just of matter of time before the organization makes it official.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore