The move has, no doubt, brought the lockout front and center for Rangers fans (if it wasn't there already) because this is a move that automatically instills the deepest of fears into the fanbase.What if Ryan McDonagh gets injured and misses the season? Or, worse, what if he gets injured and it ruins his career?
It's a normal fear to have, and a feeling that was felt when Rick Nash made the decision to play for HC Davos, and then a feeling that was reinforced when Nash injured his shoulder. In the hours when the rumors spread from a minor shoulder injury to a major concussion, Rangers fans hit the panic button. Their newest lethal sniper out for an extended period of time due to an injury he sustained playing for a team other than the Rangers? It would have been hard to swallow.
Thankfully that wasn't the case, and Nash's injury was simply a bruised shoulder. But this move conjures up more fear. Why?
Because it's Ryan McDonagh.
That's not to say that losing Nash wouldn't be a major blow to the team, it obviously would be. But McDonagh is a different situation altogether. He is the crowned jewel of the Rangers' prospects. Aside from Chris Kreider, there isn't a player on the Rangers who is younger and has a brighter future. Not one. At the tender age of 23 he's already become an invaluable cog to the Rangers' machine. And with his offensive ceiling? He might become the type of all-around defenseman teams dream about when they use top-five picks on prospects in the draft.
Simply put: McDonagh isn't just vital to the Rangers' success, he's also vital to the fans' perception of the team's future.
If you asked a random Rangers fan to give you five reasons why they're excited about the upcoming season (if there is a season) McDonagh is probably one of the first reasons you'll get. He's that good. And that young. And has that much potential. It's stunning really to imagine how much responsibility the usually gun-shy John Tortorella (at least when it comes to younger player's ice time) gave McDonagh during the playoffs. That included giving him 60 minutes of ice time in the triple-overtime victory over the Washington Capitals. Sure, Marian Gaborik got a ton of the praise for scoring the game-winning goal, but without McDonagh the Rangers wouldn't have even come close to getting an opportunity to win the game.
Which is why him going to play in the KHL is scary. The prospect of him playing for another team is almost dreamlike. It would be easy to forget that he's not an original draft pick of the Rangers in the first place. Many forget that Glen Sather - in potentially the greatest trade in recent memory - pried the promising defenseman from Montreal for Scott Gomez and his albatross of a contract.
Now he's gone. At least until the lockout is over. And Rangers fans will be biting their nails to the fingertips worrying about his healthy and safety.
You have to understand the position he is in. McDonagh has to play. He needs to stay in game shape, he wants to be ready when the season does start. But it's still scary to think about him playing in the KHL.
Just another casualty of the lockout. Except this time it's hit much closer to home.