NHL training camps are officially underway and it sounds like a major development is brewing in Leaf-land.
No, a new deal between Toronto and restricted free agent Mitch Marner is not imminent, but it does appear that the Maple Leafs are drawing closer to naming a new captain.
Toronto has not employed a team captain since the club traded defenceman Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016.
Fast forward more than three years and the timing appears to be right.
General Manager Kyle Dubas was asked about it Thursday and said while he didn’t think it was “the most important thing” a year ago at this time, he admitted that they have “a great number of leaders” in the dressing room.
Dubas also pointed out — and he’s 100 per cent correct on this — that being the captain of the Maple Leafs is “a very different job” than it is in other National Hockey League cities. The same can be said in Montreal.
Being a team captain not only means being the face of the franchise, but that person is held accountable day in and day out for the performance of the squad. And in hockey-mad Toronto, a city that is home to the longest current Stanley Cup drought and employs one of the most intense media microscopes in pro sports, the job can weigh on you.
WATCH: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner still hasn’t signed new contract, says Dubas
In saying that, the Leafs have three distinct choices for their next captain. Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly.
Matthews was drafted first overall by the Leafs in 2016 and is one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal scorers.
Tavares is the former captain of the New York Islanders and was an alternate captain in his first season with Toronto last year.
Rielly was also an alternate captain in 2018-19 and is the longest-serving player on the team.
You can make a strong case for each of them, but my money is on Matthews. He is just starting his new five-year contract that makes him the highest-paid player on the team, he has the capability to be one of the highest scorers in the NHL, and most importantly, Matthews has the demeanor to handle the off-ice pressures the job brings with it.
WATCH: ‘There’s nothing you can do about that’: Leafs coach Mike Babcock on Mitch Marner