BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Now that the preseason is over for the Rangers, there are just a few details to take care of before Wednesday night’s regular-season opener against the Capitals in Washington.
One of those is to finalize the 23-man roster, which has to be submitted to the NHL by 5 p.m. Monday. But there’s another item on the agenda that is of interest to folks: They have to name a captain.
"We’ll get to a decision here sooner or later,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said Friday when asked about the timing of the naming of a captain. "Before Game 1, for sure.’’
Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury has gone on record multiple times that he believes it is important to name a captain after playing the last three seasons without one.
Gallant, who was hired by Drury over the summer and is still getting to know his players, hasn’t seemed all that concerned about having a captain. The last team he coached, the Vegas Golden Knights, did not have one in the 2 1⁄2 seasons he was there.
"The biggest thing for me is that I need 23 guys to be leaders,’’ Gallant said. "I’ve had that in the past with some teams I’ve coached, and that’s the biggest thing for me.’’
But there is important symbolism for the Rangers in selecting a captain. They have not had one since Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the February 2018 trade deadline at the beginning of the team’s rebuild. With all indications now being that the team considers the rebuild over, naming a captain would help reinforce that message.
"It’s a big, big responsibility in New York, [and] with a little bit of a younger team,’’ forward Ryan Strome said. "But I think it also signifies that we’re turning the page here, and it’s not the old era, it’s not the old coaches, it’s not the old players. It’s the group we have here, and we’re moving forward.’’
Whom the Rangers choose to be the captain has been the source of great speculation for months now. There are several worthy candidates, beginning with forward Chris Kreider, the longest-tenured player on the team.
Kreider often has been a spokesman for the team after difficult losses and often has taken young players under his wing, training with them in the offseason. And in Wednesday’s preseason game against the Devils, when the Rangers believed that Ryan Reaves had been injured as the result of a dirty play by the Devils’ P.K. Subban, Kreider made a statement when he went to fight Subban. The two tangled twice in the game.
Center Mika Zibanejad, the second-longest-tenured player and the team’s best player throughout the entirety of the rebuild, also has been a spokesman for the team in the past three-plus seasons, as has Strome. Defenseman Jacob Trouba has become a vocal locker room leader. Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Adam Fox, 23, though only in his third season, has shown leadership qualities. He could be a serious option.
Early in training camp, when asked about the captaincy, Trouba said he would be honored to be the choice, but he thinks the Rangers’ leadership will come from more than one guy.
"I think there’s a lot of guys that are capable of doing it, and I don’t think it’s really going to change our leadership group much depending who has it, who doesn’t,’’ Trouba said.
"We have our group that we know is going to lead this thing going forward, and we all kind of have our different strengths and different ways of leading, I guess. And I mean they’re all going to be counted on.’’