TORONTO (Sep. 25) — The alleged incident involving Auston Matthews last May in Scottsdale shouldn’t be about the captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given that it frightened a woman in the middle of the night, it cuts much deeper. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but men should protect women. Not scare them. At any time.
The legal process in Arizona will play itself out. From a hockey perspective, nothing should change. As I first wrote in this space from Vancouver on Dec. 3, 2016 (blog here: http://bit.ly/2fTHdHn), Morgan Rielly is the optimum choice to be captain of the Leafs. Was, then, and remains so today. The complaint involving Matthews, to be blunt, couldn’t have happened at a better time for the hockey club. If speculation was accurate, the Maple Leafs were planning to accord Matthews the ‘C’ sometime this week or next, prior to the regular–season opener against Ottawa on Oct. 2. It still may happen, depending on how the complaint is viewed by Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas and Co. Imagine, though, if this story had surfaced the day after such a grand announcement? Remember, no player has worn the ‘C’ here in Toronto since Dion Phaneuf was dealt to the Senators on Feb. 9, 2016. Three years and eight months — coincidentally and rather astonishingly — matches the longest–such gap in franchise annals: between Rick Vaive losing the captaincy (in February 1986) and Rob Ramage succeeding him (in October 1989). One can barely conceive of the damage control from Bay St. had this police report arisen shortly after the expected coronation.
The Leafs still have an impressive “out” — award Rielly the captaincy he has long–earned by speaking impressively on behalf of the team and becoming, last season, the highest–scoring Leafs defenseman since Borje Salming in 1979–80. There’s no rule that even implies the “best player” on a team must be its captain — even if such a trend has evolved in recent years. When the Leafs won four Stanley Cups in six seasons under Punch Imlach in the 1960’s, Dave Keon, Tim Horton and Frank Mahovlich led the way. But, George Armstrong, the club’s leader and most–respected figure off the ice, wore the ‘C’. Gordie Howe was the face of hockey in the 1950’s and through much of the 60’s. But, linemate Alex Delvecchio captained the Detroit Red Wings from 1962–63 until his retirement in 1973–74 (Howe had worn the ‘C’ for four seasons prior to Delvecchio). Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito were the National Hockey League’s two greatest players when Boston won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972. But, the Chief, Johnny Bucyk, captained both clubs. Today, Zdeno Chara enters his 14th season as captain of the Bruins — several years after acceding the “best player” tag to such teammates as Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Torey Krug.
So, the Leafs should be proud to accord Rielly the ‘C’, given his eight years of service to the club.
And, quite irrespective of the alleged incident involving Matthews in Arizona.
Another reasonable notion is that John Tavares be named captain of the Leafs. Johnny T came over from the New York Islanders last season and scored a career–high 47 goals. His reputation, on and off the ice, has been impeccable since joining the Islanders as No. 1 pick of the 2009 National Hockey League draft. But, apart from three extra years of service in the NHL, why should Tavares get the nod over Rielly, who has worn the Toronto jersey with such distinction since 2012? From a performance perspective, there’s every chance Rielly and Tyson Barrie could provide the Maple Leafs their most–prolific defense tandem since Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle (135 combined points) in 2005–06. Or, maybe even Salming and Ian Turnbull (franchise–record 157 points) in 1976–77. We’re not talking about a support player here. Rielly is among the best blue–liners in the NHL and should garner Norris Trophy consideration again this season.
MORGAN RIELLY SPEAKING, AS SO OFTEN, ON BEHALF OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.
Perhaps there’s an underlying message in the police complaint from Scottsdale. Let’s hope, primarily, that the female security guard, Fayola Dozithee, has not been scarred by the purported incident of May 26. And, let’s also hold off on smearing Matthews for his alleged behavior; young men often make mistakes and No. 34 has been a pretty good citizen since joining the Leafs in 2016. Allow the process in Arizona to play itself out; give Matthews the opportunity to apologize and make amends. On the ice, however, and as I’ve been saying for nearly three years, no Maple Leaf other than Morgan Rielly should wear the captain’s ‘C’.