Naming six alternates rather than one captain plus two helpers could have been resented by the boys in the back room. It could have been perceived as a gimmick to camouflage a weakness.
But instead, the Rangers have embraced this decision as part of the club’s identity. On and off the ice, this has become a team and organization that focuses on the collective. That is one large reason why the Blueshirts will take a 23-9-4 record into Monday’s match here against the Kings.
“There had been all this talk about naming a captain and I think most guys wanted to have one because we really didn’t want to hear about it anymore,” Ryan Strome told The Post in a recent conversation. “We wanted to move on, and I think we were surprised, but the way it’s worked has been unbelievable.
“I think it’s been a factor in our success.”
Strome is one of the sextet of lettermen, joined by Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow. There are two Americans, two Canadians, a Swede and a Russian. At age 27, Trouba is the youngest.
“I feel like everyone is equal and has a voice within the group and that we all respect each other’s opinions and we all bring something a little bit different to the table,” Strome said. “We have a group chat and when it’s been called for, we’ve had a few meetings. There is a real give-and-take.
“The other day there was something I brought to the attention of one of the other guys, I asked what his thoughts were on it and what we should do about it? He told me he thought we needed to address it, so we set something up for later in the day and we dealt with it. That’s pretty much how it’s been going.”
No team has won the Stanley Cup without a player wearing the “C” since the 1971-72 Bruins hoisted the chalice (and at MSG, no less) with Johnny Bucyk, Ed Westfall, Phil Esposito and Ted Green serving as alternates. Indeed, the B’s skated through seven seasons without one from 1967-68 through 1973-74, also winning it all 1969-70.
As soon as taking over as president-general manager last May, Chris Drury said that naming a captain would be a priority. The focus naturally narrowed to Kreider, Zibanejad and Trouba. As camp evolved, Drury and incoming head coach Gerard Gallant shifted to taking a more communal view. If Zibanejad, Kreider and/or Trouba interpreted this as a snub, it has been kept secret.
“Any one of those three guys could be the captain — I’m talking about Kreids, Mika and Troubs — and I feel it has taken a lot of maturity from that group for this to have worked the way it has,” Strome said. “It really says a lot about them to embrace it and have no problem with it.
“There easily could have been ego issues. But there have been none. And we’re all better for it.”
Let’s face it. Kreider’s day has all but certainly come and gone. The same likely holds true for Zibanejad and Trouba. The next Rangers captain probably will come from the younger generation, but there is surely no rush. There is certainly no need to force something that might apply added pressure on, say, an Adam Fox. Why would the hierarchy, if the six-headed monster is so effective?
“There’s a lot of communication whether we’re meeting in person, speaking over the phone, texting, big things, little things,” Kreider said. “There are six guys who have had varying experiences, different perspectives, varying levels of experience and I think it’s a cool thing.
“At the same time having all those guys on the same page, committed to winning, open to suggestions and ideas and other people’s opinions, I think it’s been working incredibly well. And it’s a really good support system for us, too, being able to lean on each other as opposed to having just one or two guys. We can bounce ideas off one another and get advice from someone who might have been in a similar situation.”
If a baseball team claims to have two closers, it probably does not have one. Same for quarterbacks in the NFL and for goalies in hockey. But going without a captain does not imply going without leadership. There seems to be a room filled with them for the NHL’s most pleasantly surprising team.
“The whole thing kind of goes back to — and I don’t want to beat a dead horse — but it all goes but to our team-first commitment,” Strome said. “We want to make ourselves better. We want to win. Anything else is secondary.”