In a city that has long yearned for the deliverance that is a Stanley Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally seem to be on a steep and sudden incline. At the head of this turnaround, of course, is golden boy of the 6, whose face may as well be painted on the CN tower beside Drake and Norm Kelly; Auston Matthews. The 19 year old made waves in his historic four-goal debut, and since that fateful night in Ottawa this past October, the entire GTA has been begging Babcock and the gang to bestow captaincy upon the young Arizonian.
#34 possesses a charisma and a sense of responsibility well beyond his years, both on and off the ice. He has led by his cool and well-mannered example since his arrival in Toronto. It seems as though everyone is merely waiting for the announcement that Matthews will wear the “C” in the Leafs’ highly anticipated upcoming season, and it’s undeniable that this move is a likely one for the Buds.
There are, however, a few other viable options to lead the Maple Leafs into battle.
We mustn’t omit (kind of) long-time-Leaf, Morgan Rielly, from the race for captaincy. The 23 year old has somehow become a veteran in a dressing room that is a sea of rookies and has taken his role in forming young players like Matthews, Marner, and Nylander seriously. The seasoned defenseman has had his share of experience in leadership, being named alternate captain of the squad at the beginning of last year. His part in shaping what staggering talents the Leafs rookies’ possess make his knack for leadership indisputable.
Joining the lineup and nearly doubling the age of some of his potential linemates, is, of course, Patrick Marleau. The newly signed vet is no stranger to captaincy, after serving as the San Jose Sharks’ captain for a 6 year period, before being stripped of his captaincy in the summer of 2009. Marleau is an accomplished professional who sets an outstanding example, being a Lady Byng finalist twice, and will add an air of maturity and experience to a young roster. He may be just what the Leafs need in a role of leadership.
Someone who is vastly overlooked as far as leaders go, however, is fourth-liner Matt Martin. The role of captaincy in the NHL has changed vastly ever since The Great One was graced the honour of wearing “C” on his chest. Before him, the position was more about being a team leader and less about being a star player. Generational talents like Guy Lafleur and Bobby Orr were never given such a role; they were star players, and only that. One can draw a massive comparison between the Leaf’s Matt Martin and legendary Boston Bruin Terry O’Reilly. Both served as enforcers for their teams, and were not staggeringly talented. Both can be noted as overwhelmingly protective of their teammates, creating a sense of unity and family in the dressing room. Both too, however, served as off-ice examples of excellent people. Martin, a 28 year old drafted in 2008, has been given the nod as an all around class act, heading his own charity foundation and taking all of the team’s rookies under his 6’3 wing. Terry O’Reilly was one of the more successful captains in NHL history, and was no star player by any means. Watching Matt Martin tap every player’s glove as they headed out for their underdog playoff run was definitely reminiscent of that, and the kind of respect each player gives him definitely makes him “C”- worthy.
I suppose we can all safely assume that Matthews will be given the C this upcoming season, but with all the talk of what an inexperienced lineup the Leafs have, it’s important to note that there are some very influential players that will grace the Air Canada Centre for its final season this coming October.