Sunday, July 04, 2010

Report: McDonagh Will Leave Wisconsin, Sign With Rangers

Since Wisconsin Badger senior Blake Geoffrion won the Hobey Baker Award back on April 9, it's been all downhill for the longtime powerhouse hockey program.

The next night, the Badgers were annihilated by Boston College 5-0 for the national championship. That was followed up by a parade of departures.

Along with seniors like Geoffrion and Michael Davies, Wisconsin lost defensemen Cody Goloubef and Brendan Smith to the pro ranks. Then, unexpectedly, forward Derek Stepan decided to give up the last two years of college eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers.

If that wasn't worse, head coach Mike Eaves needed to replace his top two assistants.

Now, he has to replace his lone remaining captain.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh is on the verge of following Stepan to the Rangers, according to the New York Post.

The Post has been told that McDonagh, who had been undecided between turning pro and returning to Madison for his senior season, was won over by the environment at last week's Rangers' prospect camp during which he mixed with fellow hopefuls and the team's front-office personnel, notably general manager Glen Sather, coach John Tortorella and special assistants Mark Messier and Adam Graves.

This is another development in an awful offseason for Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost a slew of top scorers, and they have now lost (arguably) three of their top four defensemen, too.

McDonagh had 18 points last season, and 46 in 119 games over his UW career. His loss leaves a leadership void, as well as a void on the blue line, where the Badgers have lost one of their best defensive zone players.

While I have argued in the past that there needs to be a firm deadline for college players to make their decision on turning pro, it's an idea that has never gotten off the ground. It's also unclear if anyone has really tried.

Moves like those by Stepan and McDonagh sometimes leave their college teams in quite a bind. It's one thing if a player you expect to leave bolts within 96 hours of your team's season ending. Coaches have recruited with that expected hole in mind. It's another if a player you don't expect to leave decides to leave after summer has already started.

Frankly, pro teams shouldn't be allowed to pursue players after an agreed-upon date, and players shouldn't be allowed to sign.

But that's the best date to use? June 1, before some pro teams are done playing? June 15, so it's before the next NHL Draft? July 1?

Or is there really no need for a deadline at all?

I've gotten mixed reviews from college people I've talked to about this over the years. Some think it's ridiculous that NHL franchises are allowed to sign players after June 1 or so. After all, it's not like those players get better between March and June, and the teams that own players' draft rights have had months to scout those players and see where they are at in their development. Others don't see where it matters, because coaches should be prepared for early departures, no matter when they come.

I'm on the fence. I don't like that players can leave virtually anytime they choose, but we rake coaches over the coals for dropping recruits or players to make scholarship room. Loyalty is a two-way street, after all. On the other hand, I do think coaches are well-prepared for almost any early departure they will encounter.

In the end, a deadline would probably be a good thing. It would put some pressure on NHL franchises to take care of their business in a timely fashion, and it would allow coaches to know that by a certain date, they can be secure in their roster and move forward with preparation for the upcoming season.

(Tap of the stick: Michael Russo)

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