Ryan McDonagh had just finished working out with good buddy Derek Stepan back home in Minnesota on Wednesday---the day before his 24th birthday---when I was able to catch up with him over the phone. We chatted about the Stanley Cup Playoffs---Mac had only watched one game since the Rangers were eliminated in five games by the Bruins, Game Five of the Blackhawks-Kings series---and the Islanders trading Mark Streit to the Flyers moments before our phone call, and just generally caught up with one another before talking about his relationship with his dad, Sean McDonagh, for a Fathers Day piece I am writing for BlueshirtsUnited.com this weekend.
Then we segued into McDonagh's busy summer---one he referred to as "unique" more than once in our conversation. Ryan is getting married in the middle of July, and that in of itself would be enough to create a twist to his normal off-season routine---though certainly an exciting and very happy change in course.
But there are two other things, more related to hockey, that are most definitely on McDonagh's mind as the summer draws near. For the first time in his professional career, he is a free agent, albeit a restricted one coming off his entry level contract. Then, also for the first time in his career, he will be preparing to play for a new head coach---one who has yet to be identified and hired by the Rangers organization.
"It's going to be unique because I have nothing to compare either situation to," explained McDonagh. "I have never had another (NHL) coach...and I have never been a free agent before. As far as that is concerned (free agency), I have to kind of rely on (my agent) a lot more."
McDonagh is one of three core Rangers hitting restricted free agent status this summer---joining Stepan and Carl Hagelin---while Mats Zuccarello is also an RFA. With McDonagh having proved in three NHL seasons to be a true shutdown defenseman with tremendous skating ability and an offensive upside, all while oozing leadership skills and a high-quality character, his re-signing will be of high priority to the Rangers this summer.
But there is a business to side to everything, and this really will be McDonagh's first introduction to signing a new contract as a free agent.
"It's such a unique situation with the salary cap coming down and how the market is going to change," explained McDonagh, who has 60 points and is a cumulative +54 in 169 regular season games with the Blueshirts. "But I love being in New York, and I love all the guys on the team. You can tell there is a winning atmosphere within the team, the city, and the fans. Ultimately I'd love to be back here to give it another go and hopefully do a lot better than this year."
McDonagh's acquisition is right up there among team President and General Manager Glen Sather's best moves in New York---picking up The Mac Truck from Montreal where he was a 2007 first round pick as part of a package for underachieving veteran center Scott Gomez in a 2009 trade. He has been a rock on the Rangers blueline since making his NHL debut on January 7, 2011, as mature and poised as he is skilled.
Arguably McDonagh was as important as any Ranger during the 109-point regular season in 2011-12. In his first full season in the NHL, McDonagh was forced to play top pair shutdown minutes alongside Dan Girardi because of the concussion woes suffered by All Star Marc Staal. The former University of Wisconsin star did not flinch under such pressure, instead playing a solid, reliable game night in and night out, serving as a bedrock in the Rangers foundation.
Now McDonagh faces the prospects of playing for a new coach in 2013-14.
"I will take what I learned...and take it into my game every day and go from there with our new coach and our new team," McDonagh told me.
McDonagh admitted to being anxious to find out who the new head coach will be, and excited to get to know him and get back to work, looking to advaance the Rangers cause further than the Blueshirts have been able to in any of his first three seasons in the league.
New experiences. Marriage. Free agency. Contract negotiations. A new head coach. New teammates. Ultimately a new season starting next fall.
A busy summer, for sure, for Ryan McDonagh. And an exciting one, too.
Happy Birthday Mac Truck! Enjoy it and the days that will follow.
Jim Cerny-June 13, 2013