The 2018-19 NHL season is just around the corner and questions are slowly getting answered for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans. While rumours surfaced regarding the captaincy in Toronto, the situation was quickly settled with news that there would be three key players donning letters for the coming season.
With no ‘C’ on the horizon for the blue and white, Morgan Rielly, Patrick Marleau and John Tavares are expected to sport the letter ‘A’ for the Maple Leafs during the coming season. With that, we got together at the round table to discuss the upcoming designations for the three players as we look ahead to the season.
Forbes: Looking Ahead to Matthews’ Leadership Role
Even with the debate of Matthews or Tavares, it almost seems fitting that the Maple Leafs decided not to give their star third-year a letter for the upcoming season. Instead, they will be leaning on the veterans to deliver the leadership in 2018-19 – at least on paper.
While the team likely wants Matthews to focus on hockey and taking that next step in his NHL career this season – especially with the way the media buzzes in Toronto – he clearly has his own role to fill within the Maple Leafs dressing room. On top of that, the team has left the spot open for the time being.
With that, they handed Tavares, Marleau and Rielly letters for the upcoming season. The three will make up the team’s leadership group and for good reason.
For the last five seasons Tavares donned the ‘C’ for the Islanders – a team he suited up for 669 times during the regular season. Over that span he tallied 621 points and helped the Islanders to three playoff seasons during his tenure. His experience speaks for itself, much like Marleau.
Marleau is entering his 21st season in the NHL and has nearly 1,600 games under his belt when it comes to the regular season. While he’s only in his second year with the Maple Leafs, he’s taken the young kids under his wing with players like Marner looking to him to lead the charge. Like Tavares, Marleau was once a captain and wore a letter for a number of years while he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.
Having led the charge with the Sharks, it only makes sense that he would come to Toronto and still take on a leadership role with such a young squad.
Finally, the youngest of the three is Rielly. As arguably the Maple Leafs top defenceman, Rielly has never shied away from speaking to the Toronto media following a game. Having spoke to him following the Centennial Classic a couple of seasons ago, he mentioned how exciting the future was for the Maple Leafs following his early years with the bad editions of the team.
While Matthews would surely like to don his own letter at some point, the time just isn’t right to put pressure on the 21-year-old. That said, the Maple Leafs have the right players in place to help the younger players succeed, while building a leadership group for the years to come.
Weese: Veterans Leading the Way
I’m fully supportive of who will be getting letters this season. As Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock have stated, this team doesn’t need a captain in its current state. There are so many critical assets on the team that participate in providing a leadership role. However, giving Tavares, Marleau and Reilly assistant captain roles makes total sense. Tavares has 272 goals in his career and has held the role of captain playing for the Islanders. Marleau possesses veteran experience and has proven to be a valuable mentor to the younger players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. And Reilly had his best year last season, with six goals and 46 assists.
I have said all along that I think Matthews will be the captain of this team down the road. He’s in the early stages of his career and this move still puts him in the hunt to wear the coveted ‘C’ on his Maple Leafs jersey. But for now, having three veteran players like Tavares, Marleau and Rielly will allow the team to thrive, as the team will rely on the sum of their key assets to play leadership roles throughout the season.
Petrie: Leafs Picks No Indication of Future Decisions
Rielly, Tavares and Marleau are great choices to be alternate captains for the Maple Leafs. Rielly was an alternate captain last season and there’s no reason to change that as he’s still the Leafs’ best defenceman and an integral part of their young core.
Marleau has 20 years of experience and served on-and-off as the Sharks captain and assistant captain during his tenure in San Jose. He clearly has a great relationship with Marner, Matthews and Nylander and he’s proven he can still get it done in the NHL, leading the Leafs in goal scoring during last year’s playoff series against the Boston Bruins. Marleau spoke up during intermission a few times last season and the sense given by his teammates is that he’s a soft-spoken guy, but when he speaks, everyone listens.
Tavares has been the captain of the New York Islanders for the past five seasons and in his short time in Toronto, I’ve already been impressed with his composure and ability to handle the media. I’d be surprised if anyone had a problem with the three players named assistant captain but the debate over whether a fourth assistant should have been named in Matthews is fair.
I don’t have a problem with Matthews being left off the list of assistant captains and I don’t think this is any indication of whether he will be the future captain or not. We’ve seen some young players get an ‘A’ first before the ‘C’ (eg. Sidney Crosby), but we’ve seen others go straight to the ‘C’ (eg. Gabriel Landeskog and Connor McDavid). Matthews turns just 21 years old on Sept. 17 and should be focused on scoring 50 goals this season. While being named assistant captain would have been an honour for him, let’s all remember that Leo Komarov was an assistant last season and not overreact.
Do you have thoughts on the team’s leadership group? Should Matthews get a letter sooner than later? Be sure to share your thoughts by commenting below. Otherwise, tune in next time for more from the Maple Leafs Round Table.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.