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Rick Zamperin: Tavares, not Matthews, should be Maple Leafs’ next captain

John Tavares, centre, poses with Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas, right, and President Brendan Shanahan following a news conference in Toronto after Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, July 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Now that all the hoopla surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs signing of prized free-agent centre John Tavares has subsided, at least a little bit, we can dive deeper into what the team is going to look like when it hits the ice in the fall.

Toronto has an embarrassment of riches at centre with Tavares, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri and a great mix of speed, skill and defensive reliability with wingers Mitch Marner, Patrick Marleau, William Nylander and Zach Hyman.

Add the dependable Connor Brown, speedster Kasperi Kapanen, AHL playoff MVP Andreas Johnsson and recently acquired Swedish centre Par Lindholm to the mix and head coach Mike Babcock has a lot of forward-line options he can deploy.

READ MORE: John Tavares signs 7-year contract with Maple Leafs, $77 million deal

Babcock won’t have to think too long and hard about how the team should line up, but when it comes to which player will captain the club, that will take a little more time as general manager Kyle Dubas suggested at Tavares’ introductory news conference on Canada Day.

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Toronto has been without a captain since the team traded much maligned defenceman Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in 2016.

It would’ve been easy to give Tavares the “C” after he captained the New York Islanders for the last five seasons. But the Leafs are going about this the right way.

John Tavares says becoming Leafs captain never came up in negotiations

Click to play video: 'John Tavares says becoming Captain of Leafs never came up in negotiations' John Tavares says becoming Captain of Leafs never came up in negotiations
John Tavares says becoming Captain of Leafs never came up in negotiations – Jul 1, 2018

Dubas said, “It’s definitely not a decision to be rushed. We want to see how the group fits together. We want to see how the group works together and then as time goes on, we’ll evaluate where we’re at and if there’s one player on our group that feels he deserves to be the captain of the team we’ll make that decision then.”

When that time comes, likely next summer, Tavares should be the choice.  He’ll be 28, have a season under his belt in Toronto, and will most importantly have gained the trust and admiration of his teammates.

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READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: John Tavares coming home to Toronto, Leafs fans over the moon

And what’s not to like? Tavares is one of the most respected players in the league. He’s an Olympic gold medalist, a point-a-game guy, and a hometown boy to boot. And what may be the coup de grace is that he made the decision to play in Toronto.

Matthews and defenceman Morgan Reilly are the only other Maple Leafs who should be considered for team captain, but do they even want it?

It’s not just about having the letter “C” on your jersey, especially not in hockey-mad Toronto, where the fans and media can turn on the best of players — captains included — when times get tough.

Tavares will get a first-hand look of what life is like as a Maple Leaf in just a few months, and I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll be adept at handling the pressure that comes with it.

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He already has the experience of being a team captain and he can be the guy until at least his contract runs out when he is 34 years old.  By that time, Matthews will be 27 and entering the prime of his career, the perfect time for Tavares to pass the torch.

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