The reaction to the Dion Phaneuf trade from two years ago came in reactionary waves.
The first was because, and I’m sorry for being blunt here, who the hell saw that coming? With the Trade Deadline 20 days away, many assumed that the Leafs would be one of the more active teams. Continuing the tear down included getting rid of Phaneuf, but the spontaneous nature of it took social media by storm.
Wave number two was characterized by praising words and metaphorical ‘bow-downs’ to then general manager Lou Lamoriello. The Leafs sent Matt Frattin (kind of, he was still able to stick with the Marlies for the rest of the season), Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert, and Cody Donaghey to join Phaneuf in Ottawa. Coming the other way was Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Tobias Lindberg, Jared Cowen, and a 2017 second-round pick.
So if we’re checking all the boxes, the Leafs managed to trade Phaneuf without retaining salary, dump contracts in exchange for short term salary commitments, AND get a draft pick who later became Eemeli Rasanen. Nice, very nice. But that leads into the third and final phase which I like to call: curiosity.
The Leafs no longer had a captain.
No one batted an eye at the time, but the team has improved since then, making the ‘captain-less Leafs’ narrative a growing one. So much so that some have pinpointed it as being one of the issues arising in the playoffs.
“The Leafs need direction. The Leafs need structure. The Leafs need a leader. The Leafs need a captain!”. How many times did one of those appear in a timeline? When it comes to who should be donning the “C” one day, look no further than Auston Matthews.
He took the NHL by storm since day one and has continued to make a name for himself as a star in Toronto. His sophomore season came with more growing pains (literally). A back injury and concussion held Matthews to 62 games, but he was still able to put up 34 goals and 29 assists.
So obviously the best time for the Leafs to appoint Matthews as the 18th captain in team history would be at the start of the 2018-19 season. Why not, right? He’s been around for a while now and should know the ins and outs of the NHL. Well, there’s more to being the captain of a team than getting an additional patch on your sweater.
Not every star in the league can climb the ranks of the leadership as fast as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Gabe Landeskog and Connor McDavid. Also, let’s not be naive here. Being the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs has a lot more weight to it than a lot of the other organizations (no disrespect).
As captain, you’re ‘cursed’ with taking authority for the entire team. When something goes well, you need to speak on it. When things go south, you NEED to speak on it. And if you don’t, you get a six-minute Sid Seixeiro rant dedicated to you. A different situation I know, but you see what I’m getting at.
Imagine if Matthews was captain after Game Four or when the ‘Star vs. Coach feud’ was at the height of its powers? The headlines were bad enough, and the “C” would’ve magnified it to the umpteenth power.
Going back to the Sid rant for a second, he brings up a good point. If you are captain of the Leafs, you don’t have a choice. You have to talk to the media regardless of the situation.
Wendel Clark said something along the same lines on a hit for TSN 1050 when asked about Leafs’ captaincy:
As soon as you put a letter on a person’s sweater or the “C”, that person has to answer questions about everything all the time. And right now, those questions are spread throughout the team.
I always had a small appreciation for the ‘Rookies Can’t Talk’ movement when Lou first joined the organization. Whether it protected the players or not, it did allow them to only play the game instead of having to worry about the flurry of microphones afterward. However, that’s going to come for everyone in time.
Don’t think that I’m wagging an ill-finger at Leafs media. I’m just acknowledging the reality that comes with playing in a large hockey market like this one.
Matthews is at an important juncture in his career right now. He’s continuing to acknowledge that the rest of the league is aware of who he needs to find ways to get around that.
We know he’ll be captain at some point, but for now, it’s best to let the guy continue being the number one centre we spent years dreaming about. The leadership group is already well established, and it doesn’t take an all-seeing eye to know that Matthews is part of it. Once he’s ready, he’ll get that extra patch that fans have been wanting to see him wear.
When do you think Auston Matthews is named captain?
This poll is closed
Summer of ‘18
Start of the ‘18-19 season
Start of the ‘19-20 season