TORONTO (Sep. 27) — Mike Babcock told The Athletic last week he had a strong sense that the naming of a captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs will be “obvious to most”. Adding further intrigue is that the interview with the on–line journal occurred before news broke of Auston Matthews’ escapades last May in Scottsdale, Ariz. No billionaire in Toronto, a week ago, would have shied away from betting his entire fortune on Matthews getting the ‘C’. That’s how “obvious” the choice appeared at the time. Since the police report of disorderly conduct became public, the “obvious” choice(s) are now one of Morgan Rielly or John Tavares.
Heck, everything is so transparent in Leafs Land.
Darren Dreger told Overdrive on TSN Radio–1050 that he believes the decision on a captain “was made weeks ago and doesn’t involve Matthews.” If true, that is enormous news and it speaks ear–splitting volumes about the supposed “face” of the Toronto franchise. It means a) that the hockey club wasn’t sufficiently confident in according Matthews the ‘C’ long before the Arizona police report became public; b) that the Leafs knew about Matthews’ lurid conduct on May 26 prior to it becoming public and chose to not admit such awareness, or c) Matthews wants no part of the captaincy. Whichever way, it appears the most–natural, home–grown scorer on the Maple Leafs since Lanny McDonald more than 40 years ago has never been considered for the role. Astonishing, isn’t it? So, what then becomes “obvious” about the Toronto captaincy?
The answer? Absolutely nothing.
MORGAN RIELLY (44) CONGRATULATES JOHN TAVARES FOR SCORING IN THE LEAFS 5–1 VICTORY OVER THE LOS ANGELES KINGS AT THE STAPLES CENTER LAST NOV. 13. TRAVIS DERMOTT (23) JOINS THE CELEBRATION. GETTY IMAGES/NHL
To some people, the “obvious” choice will be Tavares, given his decade of service in the National Hockey League and his experience as captain of the New York Islanders. To others — myself among them — it is “obvious” that Rielly should get the ‘C’ considering he’s been the prime (and polished) spokesman in the dressing room for half–a–decade… and that there’s no reason to overlook him for someone else. In making this symbolic, but important, decision, the Leafs should be thinking long–term. Tavares is under contract with a full no–movement clause for another six seasons, through 2024–25. At which time he’ll be 34. Though his performance is likely to wane in the final years of the deal, Tavares is going nowhere without permission.
Rielly, on the other hand, can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021–22 season at 28 years of age and, barring serious injury, still in his prime. Do you know that not a single important player chosen and developed by the Maple Leafs since the advent of the universal NHL draft in 1970 (or signed as an un–drafted free agent) has spent his entire career with the club? Not one. The list includes Darryl Sittler, McDonald, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull, Mike Palmateer, Steve Thomas, Wendel Clark, Gary Leeman, Al Iafrate, Vincent Damphousse, Tie Domi, Tomas Kaberle, Nik Antropov, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri.
You might consider Rielly a sound choice to break the interminable pattern. And while we all know he’d toss his full support (privately and publicly) behind Tavares as captain, it would still be an unnecessary snub — one that Rielly might easily factor in before signing his next contract. Given the significance (and relative rarity) of an elite defenseman, why would the Maple Leafs do anything to hurt Rielly? Particularly when there’s not the slightest argument against him becoming captain of the hockey club?
The coach may think the imminent announcement will be “obvious” to all. Nor can there be a “wrong” choice between Tavares and Rielly. But, the still–young defenseman deserves to be “Captain Morgan” — having slogged here, in mid–decade, while the club reeked… and “tanked” to assure the best chance of landing Matthews. For five years running, he’s grown, marvelously, into the leader of the Blue and White.
There is no reason to bypass him for the captaincy.
GOING BACK 63 YEARS
Just came across one of the oldest items in my collection — an issue of HOCKEY BLUELINE from nearly 63 years ago with Detroit Red Wings star Ted Lindsay (d. Mar. 4, 2019) on the cover. An off–shoot of The Hockey News in the late–50’s, this 34–page, glossy magazine was published eight times per NHL season (October through May). I have seven–such items, including one from the month I was born (February 1959). The publisher of HOCKEY BLUELINE was Will Cote (below), who worked alongside founders Ken McKenzie and Charlie Halpin at The Hockey News. This edition featured articles written by the two most–famous hockey broadcasters in Canadian history: Danny Gallivan (Montreal) and Foster Hewitt (Toronto).
Included in the January 1957 issue of HOCKEY BLUELINE was a photo gallery of the Boston Bruins (above). A pair of Bruin regulars would — just more than a decade later — help the Maple Leafs win their most–recent Stanley Cup: Defenseman Allan Stanley and goalie Terry Sawchuk (below).
Rielly’s polished, media-savvy, and like a fine red wine keeps getting better with age. His best hockey is clearly ahead of him. Credit to Brian Burke for his draft acuman – I still recall Burke saying that he had Rielly’s 1st overall. Reilly, Matthews, or Tavares (Why not Marner?) all fit the bill of a good captain. I hate to minimize Matthews criminal proceedings but IMO they are more about the fact that he’s a celebrity and has old rich neighbors. He’s still a kid who is prone to doing dumb things once in a while.
I’m all for Rielly for captain, although in my opinion today’s captaincy is not as important as it was years ago. And I think the reason for that is today’s salary structure which some captains are captains because of what they get paid and not their leadership qualities.