Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Players Who Would Make Sense as Team Captain
Allow me to preface this slideshow by stating one thing—the Toronto Maple Leafs don't have anyone truly deserving of the team's captaincy at this point.
For a storied organization whose leaders have included Mats Sundin, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler and George Armstrong over the years, the present incarnation of the team woefully lacks leadership.
While Dion Phaneuf is noted as being a vocal presence in the dressing room and a leader on the ice thanks to his physicality and willingness to mix it up, his risky, erratic play leaves much to be desired.
Traditionally, Maple Leafs captains have been steadying forces with the ability to impose their will on the game.
Phaneuf, while talented, isn't a player who has proven he can take over a game. As the leader of a fledgling Leafs team, his leadership has been questioned at times as well.
That said, he won't be stripped of his captaincy. In fact, he's the best choice considering the lack of leadership the team possesses, in the humble opinion of yours truly.
While debate is nothing new in Leafs Nation, especially when it concerns the leader of their beloved Maple Leafs, here are five players who might be considered for the captaincy, if Phaneuf didn't already have the "C" stitched on his jersey.
Note: This doesn't mean I expect any of these players to become captain at any point, especially if Phaneuf remains a Leaf in the future. While it is possible someone on this list has the captaincy bestowed upon them at a later date, as of right now it's simply a collection of players who would likely be considered if the captaincy were vacant.
Of all the players who might be considered for the captaincy if Phaneuf didn't don the letter "C" on his jersey, the strongest case could be made for Joffrey Lupul.
Lupul has only played 94 games as a Leaf, but the setbacks he's endured thus far in his career have certainly given him some perspective.
As a player who flourished during his first full season in Toronto before being felled by a separated shoulder, Lupul has established himself as an integral part of the offence. However, how he meshes with Randy Carlyle after butting heads with him in Anaheim could go a long way to dictating his future with the team.
Lupul brings size, skill and leadership to a Leafs team in dire need of it. The perseverance displayed after battling back from a debilitating back injury, as well as a concussion, earlier in his career is admirable, and inspiring as well. His dedication was recognized with a Masterton Trophy nomination earlier this year.
As a player who contributes in a variety of ways, and as a respected player within the organization, Lupul could very well be the front-runner if the Leafs were without a captain today.
Fresh off signing a shiny five-year extension, Grabovski looks to be a mainstay within the Leafs' top-six for years to come.
While he's rather small in stature, "Grabo" plays a feisty game and can get under the skin of his opponents. Especially the Kostitsyn brothers.
Additionally, he's a talented player, but at times very mercurial. His talent is apparent, but he leaves you wanting more. He has started to mature, however, and his game has become more well-rounded. As such, his confidence has improved as well.
Grabovski's skill set would keep him in the conversation for the captaincy were there a vacancy, but he leads by example more than anything else, due to the slight language barrier, as English is not his native tongue.
As an assistant captain, it's clear that the Leafs brass think highly of Grabovski and his contributions to the team. It's also indicative of his maturation as a person and a player, with his work ethic buoying his improvement.
Why would Phil Kessel, a player who's obviously shy and uncomfortable with the spotlight in Toronto, make sense as team captain?
For starters, he's the team's most talented player. And while being the most talented player doesn't automatically mean you should be anointed captain, as Kessel goes, so too do the Leafs.
As the primary offensive catalyst for the Leafs, Kessel has the ability to change the outcome of a game with a flick of his wrists. For those who saw him play last year, he became more committed to playing a two-way game as well.
How he responds to the demands of Randy Carlyle—a much tougher coach than Ron Wilson—will be telling in terms of whether or not Kessel is cut out to be a leader.
Kessel isn't a very vocal presence, as his shy demeanor with the media will attest to, but there is no denying the impact he can have on the game.
If he continues to develop into a more mature player who can play a "200-foot" game, he could be a strong candidate to succeed Phaneuf should he leave town or relinquish the captaincy.
Before the criticism of Kulemin's inclusion on the list begins, know that he's not being considered because of his stats.
As much as he struggled last season, and as great as he was in 2010-11 when he potted 30 goals, Kulemin makes sense in the respect that he's a hard worker who is committed to playing in all three zones.
Although he hails from Russia, Kulemin plays a very "North American" style of game, as he displays with his willingness to use his body and his gritty play in the tough areas of the ice.
He is a heart-and-soul type of player who endears himself to teammates by doing all the little things, though his dressing room contributions would be severely mitigated by his lack of command of the English language.
As of right now, his future with the Leafs is in limbo as he and the organization attempt to hammer out a new deal. But they would be wise to keep him, as he's the type of player they don't employ in abundance.
Would the Leafs ever make Kulemin captain? No. But he does possess some of the qualities you want in a captain, and his name would at least warrant discussion, however little, should the issue of the Leafs' captaincy ever arise.
James Van Riemsdyk
It is much too early to expect "JVR" to take on a leadership role in the form of wearing a letter on his jersey, but he's a player who may very well get serious consideration in the future if Dion Phaneuf ceases to be a Leaf.
James van Riemsdyk gives the Leafs the big-bodied presence they've desired for so long, and if he reaches his potential, he will be a force for up front for years to come.
As a young player, van Rimesdyk will need to grow into a leadership role, something he'll likely do as he matures and refines his game. As a player who will pair with Phil Kessel to comprise the focal point of Toronto's offense in the coming years, there is no doubt the expectations will be high for him.
In his limited time as a Leaf, he has handled the media well and appears to be comfortable with the exposure that comes with playing in Toronto.
If he can live up to the hype on the ice and become a player that makes a difference night in and night out, van Riemsdyk may very well end up being the first American captain of the Leafs.
Much to the chagrin of those who feel Brian Burke has already acquired "too many Americans," no doubt.
Just kidding, Leafs fans.