Last week Brendan Shanahan announced the Maple Leafs will go into another season without naming a captain. At the Maple Leafs 100TH anniversary game press conference last Tuesday, Shanahan stated “I think it’s important to have leadership… and you don’t need to be a captain to show leadership on the ice or leadership in the room. And so for us, it’s always going to be about having as many leaders as possible. When Mike and Lou and our staff decide it is the right time to make the move, they will do it.
Some hockey purist will see these comments and say, “how can a storied franchise like the Maple Leafs not a have captain for yet another season?” Yes, leadership can be found in the room, but the captain is the leader, the one person the team can go to in good times and in the bad. Some of the most historic names in the franchise’s history include Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Charlie Conacher, George Armstrong and more recently, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Mats Sundin and Dion Phanuef. George Armstrong stands as the longest-serving captain in Leafs history, the last to win a Stanley Cup and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975.
When you look at all those names, only a couple have won a Stanley Cup and a couple others were close, like Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin. The rest of the captains played in some of the most difficult days of the franchise and are associated with a past most Maple Leafs fans would like to forget, i.e. Dion Phanuef.
My thoughts on the next captain of the Maple Leafs always takes me to Auston Matthews. But why rush it? Why place the burden of a Stanley Cup drought on such a young player so early in his career? Auston is already facing overblown expectations to match or exceed his point totals and play from last season. The pressure of adding the captaincy this year may be a distraction the team and player do not need at this moment.
This is a pivotal year for the organization. The bar is set high for the Leafs after last year’s Cinderella season. To have the Maple Leafs’ best player focused on his play and not on the pressure/burden of being captain is of greater importance, as both the Maple Leafs and Matthews want to take the next step in their development. One more year without a captain will not hurt the overall picture. The signings of Ron Hainsey, Dominic Moore and Patrick Marleau help to provide the leadership that is required even if no one takes to the ice with “C” on his chest. Leadership comes not from the letter, but from how the player interacts with the team. In the case of Auston Matthews, who has displayed a maturity beyond his age, it is not if he will be captain but when.