The news is out, the Rangers are done with Chris Drury, leaving the Blueshirts without a captain.
Before the C was sewn to Drury's sweater I held the belief that the team needed a cult of personality to lead them and, if anything, the last few seasons strengthened that philosophy. Us fans will never know what Drury brought to the table in the room and outside the rink - he may very well be responsible for the quick acclimation to New York by all of the Ranger kids the last few seasons. We will never know. But it is sad the way things worked out from what we did see.
We are pretty much right back where we started from. Back in 2008 the Rangers were transitioning from the Jagr generation to the Renney's American Rangers and it was clear that the C would go to one of the two big money Cs that were signed, Drury or Scott Gomez. Seeing as Gomez was a clown, that pretty much sealed the deal for Dru. Now the team is transitioning from the mercenary Sather signings to a generation of home grown kids.
So who will it be?
The obvious choice is Ryan Callahan. Cally's on-ice abilities are well known and he matured before our eyes as the New York media turned towards him in Drury's injury-caused absences. Callahan may very well be the next captain and he may very well prove to be worthy of the letter (and I truly hope so) but April 7th opened the door to doubt. Cally stood on crutches alongside Steve McDonald to present the extra effort award before an important home game against Atlanta. The sight of their injured teammate alongside New York's hero cop did nothing to inspire the team and they fell 3-0 in an utter embarrassment.
What we need to figure out is who will be able to inspire this team and lead them to a Stanley Cup? Callahan may very well be the man, but let's just look at a few other candidates:
Henrik Lundqvist: Hank is clearly deeply emotionally tied with the team and it's performance - after wins he is happy, after losses he looks like someone kicked his puppy. He doesn't hide from the media and isn't afraid to call out his teammates. As much as he is the King, he is also the Atlas holding up the Ranger world. But Roberto Luongo proved that goaltenders just shouldn't be captains in this day and age. While Hank can surely handle the pressure, he doesn't need or deserve the distractions.
Brandon Dubinsky: Dubi has been right there alongside Cally, growing up and giving all he has for the team. He is willing to fight for his teammates - physically at times - and call out the opposition *cough, cough, Crosby, cough, cough*. But he is on the verge of yet another possible contract holdout and you simply don't want to see that from the captain.
Marc Staal: The Rangers' top defenseman, Staal is yet another product of the developmental system who is rightfully taking his place among the best blueliners in the NHL. On the ice he is quiet and steady and perhaps the best foil for Alex Ovechkin in the league. While we saw a hint of a sense of humour with him at the All Star draft, Staal is usually as straightforward, bland and dour as Drury was with the media. He is best just going about his business rather than having to deal with all that captaincy holds.
Derek Stepan: In his first season Step stepped right in and often didn't look like a rookie. With the media and the fans he is gregarious and gracious and is already well loved by his teammates. A leader at Wisconsin and with the junior Team USA, Stepan clearly has the personality and ability to be 'the man' when called upon. But, going into his sophomore season he needs to be able to work to avoid the infamous slump without having the team's fortunes weighing upon him.
Brad Richards: Since it seems to be all but certain Richards is signing with the Rangers on Friday, he should be considered a candidate. The former Conn Smythe winner already has a good relationship with the head coach and several of the players and at 31 years old has plenty of experience in dealing with the ups and downs of the league. However, Richards will need to acclimate to the city and, unless his contract demands are far less than expected, will be just another mercenary coming to New York for the money.
Twice in recent history the Rangers chose poorly between two candidates for captaincy - picking the reluctant Leetch over Graves and Jagr over Shanahan. Drury was definitely a better selection than Gomez would have been but he didn't prove to be the leader the Rangers needed. Let's hope that they decide on the right one this time.