Lightning & Maple Leafs Both Benefitting From Strong Leadership

Being the team captain in hockey means more than in any other sport. In the NHL, you earn the right to wear the “C” on your sweater. You earn the right to be the first person to parade around the ice with the Stanley Cup if your team is fortunate – and talented enough – to win it.

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The importance of a team captain is so ingrained that when coaches cannot determine who fits the lofty criteria, they often opt to leave the position vacant. Currently, there are eight NHL teams without a captain.

The fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs both have two of the best captains in the league, adds another dimension to the already plot-heavy, first-round matchup of the 2023 Playoffs. So, since each team can only have one captain, which No. 91 would you rather have: Steven Stamkos or John Tavares?

Steven Stamkos: The Lightning

As the first overall selection of the 2008 NHL Draft, Stamkos replaced long-time Lightning superstar Martin St. Louis as the team’s captain when he left for the New York Rangers in 2014. At 24 years old, he was already exhibiting the traits befitting an NHL leader on and off the ice. He is a respected teammate and is now the fifth longest-serving active captain in the league.

After suffering several injuries during his career, Stamkos has been extremely productive in the last two seasons. The 33-year-old scored 106 points during the 2021-22 season, the most of his career, and had 84 points this season, which has been filled with milestones as he surpassed 500 goals, 1,000 career points, and 1,000 games played.

Steven Stamkos Jon Cooper Tampa Bay Lightning
Jon Cooper Congratulates Steven Stamkos on his 1000th Point (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One of Stamkos’ best goals came in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final when he scored a legendary goal in his only shift of the postseason. It is a goal that not many Lightning fans will ever forget and it earned him Play of the Year honors from Sports Illustrated. Throughout his career, he has played in 120 postseason games and has 93 points, but that goal will always be one of his most inspiring.

Another example of Stamkos’ leadership came after the Lightning lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Cup Final. A beaten and severely battered team, their captain defiantly asked “Who says we’re done?” With those words, the team secured its 15th franchise playoff berth this season.

John Tavares: The Maple Leafs

Not to be outdone, one year after the Lightning took Stamkos with the first overall draft pick, the New York Islanders drafted Tavares, who was the first overall pick of the 2009 NHL Draft. He played nine seasons in Long Island, serving as the team captain from 2013-2018, before signing a seven-year deal worth $77 million with the Maple Leafs in 2018. The following season, he became the team’s 25th captain. One reason they chose him was to guide the younger players on the team and be a role model on and off the ice.

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Tavares should reach his own milestone next season, as he currently sits at 975 career points in 1,029 games. He needs 77 more goals to join the 500-goal club.

Related: Maple Leafs John Tavares Embraces Playing on the Wing (Video)

Although he has played in the NHL for 14 seasons, Tavares has only played in 47 postseason games and scored 40 points. However, during the first round of this playoff series with the Lightning, he assisted on a goal by Ryan O’Reilly and followed that up by scoring his first career postseason hat trick in Game 2.

Two Ontario Captains

It’s a 40-minute drive from Markham, Ontario, where Stamkos was born, to Mississauga, Tavares’ hometown. Stamkos and Tavares both grew up rooting for the Maple Leafs.

“We’ve known each other since we were kids,” Tavares said. “We played against each other in minor hockey, and at the world juniors together, and the World Cup as well … hard to believe we’re both at this point of our NHL careers. We both feel very fortunate and have a lot of gratitude, and work hard to maximize this opportunity” (from ‘Tavares-Stamkos reunion subplot to Leafs road date with Lightning’, Toronto Star, 12/2/2022).

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares screens Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Two players taken with the very first pick of their respective drafts, both Stamkos and Tavares prove their worth, as leaders on and off the ice, with every passing season. Although Stamkos has more Stanley Cup experience – and championship rings – Toronto’s captain may help change the fortune of his team this postseason. No matter who wins the first-round series, both teams have benefitted from their No. 91.