Mats Sundin leads the Toronto Maple Leafs and has been the face of the franchise for the past 10 years. His time, although not over yet, is ticking at 36.
Considering there were thoughts this past off-season regarding his retirement, or if he was going to re-sign with the Leafs, suggests that he isn’t going to be around much longer. After all he is on a one year deal.
This progression is inevitable.
I’m sure when Darryl Sittler retired, when Wendell Clark retired, and when Doug Gilmour moved on the question was asked: Who is going to be the leader of this team? Now, more than ever, an answer isn’t crystal clear, or even close.
The two alternate captains are Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. Promoting one of the two cornerstone blue liners seems natural, but is it the best choice?
Bryan McCabe, the past two seasons, has struggled. Inconsistent play in his own end has resulted in an echo of boos from the crowd in the Air Canada Centre. Although his leadership qualities are strong, it’s his performance that sets a poor example, one unbecoming of a captain.
Tomas Kaberle could be the poster-boy for consistent. He makes smart decisions, and has a knack for scoring big goals (especially in overtime). In terms of leadership - Kaberle isn’t vocal. He’s much more apt to let his play, and consistency do the talking for him. That’s enough for some teams, but in a market like Toronto the captain needs to be able to do it all.
The next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs must be a leader both on and off the ice, he must be a good communicator given the high volume of media attention the team receives on a regular basis, and perhaps most importantly, he must be well respected by his peers, and of course the fans.
Frontrunners for this position are not exactly well defined, however, he are some names being passed around the proverbial office water cooler:
Darcy Tucker: Definitely fits the description of a leader, he plays with more heart, and passion than any other Leaf. He does spend too much time in the penalty box, but the new role may have an affect on that aspect. Questions arise in terms of his health. The way Tucker plays wears on the body, and a captain needs to be in the line up.
Tomas Kaberle: A solid, all-star caliber defenseman. He plays more minutes than anyone else, and is on the ice in all situations. Handling the media and leading the team off the ice would need improvement, but as a regular viewer, I see strides being made in every interview.
Nik Antropov: Has emerged as a force on the ice. He is big, nasty at times, and is amongst the leaders in the league with a +9. His health remains a mystery. ‘Big Nik’ has yet to play a season without missing time due to injury, and therefore hasn’t reached the level of respect needed to lead a team.
Matt Stajan: Has Been the NHLPA Rep for the team the past 2 years, and is developing… That being said at 23 he is still too young to lead a team. At this point he will be considered in a few years, and once he gains some experience.
Bryan McCabe: Certainly a valid candidate more or less because… well, who else? McCabe if he is still in Toronto when Mats retires (or moves on) is well rounded in all categories. He will need to win over the respect of his peers and fans before he dawns the ‘C’ however.
It’s very unlikely to see a free agent come to Toronto and be awarded the ‘C’. A comfort level must be established. One that shows an ability to play under the microscope in Toronto. Which means, in all likelihood, it will come from within, I ask, but who?
Thanks for reading. TL.