7 potential candidates to be the Leafs’ next captain

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

When Dion Phaneuf was traded in February, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost more than a highly paid, polarizing defenceman. They also lost their captain, which for a team with a history as vast as Toronto, is a pretty big deal. In their 89 years of being the Leafs, only 17 people have had the honour of having the C on their chest, and only four others are known from the Blueshirts, Arenas and St. Pats eras.

As the Leafs go into their centennial season, fans are left wondering who will be the player who has the honour of representing them. Here are a few names that could get some consideration:

Tyler Bozak

The Case In Favour: Bozak has been on the roster longer than any player on the team, which goes to show how insane the roster churn has been over the past few years. Now 30 years old, Bozak knows a thing or two about the NHL grind. He’s played a bunch of different roles with a wide variety of players, has been through the ups and downs of being a Leaf in this city, and thanks to his polarizing play style, has experience with being irrationally loved and overly hated in this town. Wore the A last year.

The Case Against: The Saskatchewan native has been involved in trade rumours and speculation for over a year now, and could be on the move at a moment’s notice, making him a risky choice to lead the way. As well, it would be weird to have a Leafs captain who has half of the city blocked on Twitter.

Leo Komarov

The Case In Favour: While Bozak is the longest-tenured Leaf, Komarov has been part of the organization the longest, and has had the opportunity to leave and find his way back. He’s universally loved by the fans and carries an entertaining persona. Babcock’s affection for his play last year had led many to believe he’ll be here as long as he reasonably wants to be. Wore the A for the Leafs last year and has worn letters for Dynamo Moscow and the Finnish National Team. Komarov is a man of many cultures, who can groom both North American and European players that come through the system.

The Case Against: Komarov doesn’t carry the same star power as most Leafs captains, outside of a “we had to take one” all-star appearance last year. As well, the practical purpose of a captain is to speak to the referee, and who knows how well the zebras take an Estonian chirping them in four different languages.

Morgan Rielly

The Case In Favour: At 22 years old, Rielly has a lot of hockey ahead of him, but is also the youngest member of the “new” core of the team, making him a bridge player. Has shown professionalism throughout his young career with the Leafs, and as a childhood fan despite living several provinces away, understands the meaning of being a fan beyond reason. Is signed until 2022, so he can get a reasonably long tenure in even if he eventually walks away.

The Case Against: Rielly hasn’t been in a leadership role since his Draft+1 year in Moose Jaw, which might suggest that he’s happy with being a support player as far as room presence goes. Naming him Captain will also start more Rielly vs. Gardiner debates, which are the worst given the fact that they can be solved with “THEY’RE BOTH GOOD AND THEY’RE BOTH LEAFS”.

Brooks Laich

The Case In Favour: Laich has been around the league longer than anybody on the team, entering his 13th season at 33 years old. Many players have already gone out of their way to call him a father figure since joining the team in the winter. He has experience playing in major junior, the AHL, and Europe, so he can relate to players who have developed from all sorts of paths. Wore the A for several years in Washington.

The Case Against: Toronto has had a strict history as far as handing off the C, opting to give it to a player who will wear it for the long haul. If you look at the players who only led the way for a year or two, it was because they were run out of town or the last captain came out of retirement / long term leave. Laich is only signed until the end of the season, and unless he comes very cheap with the expectation of few minutes, I can’t see him staying much longer than that.

Matt Martin

The Case In Favour: Martin, as we’ve been told non-stop for the past few weeks, is a heart and soul player who will stick up for his teammates and do whatever he can to make the team win. As a bottom-six player, he is great in the room and will instantly make the culture of this team much better. Giving him the C will also give the Leafs diplomatic immunity from the older members of the media. 

The Case Against: Matt Martin hasn’t worn a letter in the NHL, AHL, OHL, Junior B, or Junior C. Basically, not at all for the past eleven years, and maybe a little further into his early teens. That’s weird, considering all the great things said about his intangibles. Anyway, bringing him from 0-to-1000 probably isn’t the best idea with that considered.

Auston Matthews

The Case In Favour: Despite his youth, Matthews has shown incredible poise and media presence off the ice. He’s also shown cool and composed play on the ice. Matthews wore an A for the US National Team in each of his last two seasons. Not to mention, he’s the face of the franchise.

The Case Against: I’m not so sure that making an 18-year-old the youngest captain in NHL history before he plays his first game as the face of arguably the biggest team on the planet in their centennial season counts as “keeping expectations low”.

Wait Another Year

The Case In Favour: Nobody’s forcing the Leafs to have a captain. They went three years without one after Rick Vaive, and two years without one after Mats Sundin. A 3×2 inch patch on a jersey isn’t required to make a player a leader; those who live for the role will carry themselves with it in the room and on the buses and planes, where they don’t have their uniforms on. Besides, this might be a good business decision too; let people buy the jerseys of the rookies this year and double dip on them next summer with a new captain.


Ultimately, I think waiting is the best possible option. Let the vets like Laich, Bozak and Komarov be the internal speakers in the room, while getting a feel for Rielly and Matthews’ presences. Seeing as the letter is just as much, if not more of a public statement than it is a private one at this level of hockey, it probably makes sense to have one of the younger kids take it eventually, but not just yet.

  • Foximus

    Morgan Rielly for captain. He’s on the ice a lot, doesn’t get rattled or start fights, and handled his controversy around ‘not a girl’ comment with class and dignity. He’s articulate and seems like a very mature 22 year old.

  • Newleafs

    I like this idea:

    Make the captain an older veteran player for 2-3 years. When a younger player shows they can handle the C give it to them.

    I’m looking at Matthews as future captain. This guy has unbelievable maturity for his age and works hard like a beast. He is the perfect fit for captain but maybe not for a few years.

  • giproc

    I legitimately stopped reading after bozak was mentioned. now that’s hilarious. let’s make a bottom 6 player captain who will be gone before his contract is up. LOL matt martin? i’m done. pointless article. the answer that everyone agrees with is to wait. everyone already knows it’ll be rielly or matthews. both have the qualities and personalities to survivor being leafs captain and living up to their potential without distractions affecting them.

  • Newleafs

    No kadri? I mean if you name Bozak or Rielly then Kadri is not really a stretch. This selection smells of typical main stream media and team jingoism that ultimately drove Subban out of Montreal.

  • Newleafs

    Thanks for the laugh. Bozak? Martin? Latch? If you did your homework you’d know the leafs brass already said they are not rushing on a captain and once they name one it will be someone who is an obvious choice to everyone and that person will be a leader in the locker room and through production on the ice. Most of your picks don’t match this criteria.

  • Foximus

    Wait another year for sure. This team is being built for the long haul. Pick a captain for the long haul.

    Probably Matthews either next year or the year after.

  • giproc

    Wait a couple years. The only players with the skill, demeanor and calm under the spotlight to be the next Leaf captain are still very young. They need to concentrate on development.

    No way Babs wants any of his young core to carry that extra burden of the ‘C’ when they have other things to improve upon.

  • Martin TO

    I think our management knows the significance of Leafs captaincy so they aren’t going to hand it to someone who they don’t see as a core piece of our team for 5+ years (ie: Bozak, Liach, Martin, or even Komarov). As people say Riley is really the only obvious choice for now, but it makes sense to wait until our core is more defined and some leaders emerge.

  • Kyle Becker

    Leo Komarov is the leader this team needs. Sign him to a 2 year extension so you get 4 years out of him, and knowing Babs he will love deploying this guy relentlessly. He might be a prick out there but at least he is one of the more respectful pricks (those DO exist, its a comparative) that doesn’t get out of line and cause more damage to his team than he inflicts on the others.

    Oh, and lets not forget him lipping off (I think) one of the Sedins for diving, why was he not given the C then?

    He does it all really, and while he does not do any one thing amazingly well, outside of irritating the hell out of the other team but that’s a fringe aspect, but he is a steady player who is not a risk out there. He can backcheck, forecheck, plays the systems like a boss and he does have a knack for scoring goals. He did that in bunches overseas and we can see shades of that translate to the North American game. And as time goes on and the more comfortable he is under the coaching staff, he will be one of the most reliable players night in and night out.

    The reason I mentioned 4 years of Captaincy from him, is that should be enough time for either Matthews, Marner or even Nylander could really ruminate in the league together and put their foot in the leagues ass. See which one stands out as the best candidate and then you have a problem other teams would kill for.

    LEO 2016

  • Kyle Becker

    Laich and Martin aren’t even close to being talented enough to be captain. Komarov and Bozak aren’t important enough to be captain. Kadri is a dirty diver. Gardiner is unpopular amongst the media. van Riemsdyk is already past his prime. I think the only realistic options are Rielly, Nylander, Marner or Matthews.

    My vote for now is no one. My vote for later is Matthews.

  • giproc

    You guys must really hate Naz.

    He’s Babs’ ideal player. Gotta believe all of Coach’s positive comments towards the guy was more than just tire pumping especially after the extension.

    The Kadri of 2014 is a speck in the rearview mirror… this guy has the stones to lead this team and preach Babs’ message while setting the bar for what Maple Leafs Hockey should look like.

    Work ethic, compete, drive train. Kadri 4 Kaptain!

      • CMpuck

        That didn’t stop Naz for being the 56th highest point producing center in the league. In Leafs Nation we round up and call him a legit 2C.

        You can’t just find a guy that puts up 45 points in a top six role.

        • Kyle Becker

          I’m not trying to suggest that he isn’t a good player, I just don’t think he’s captain material. I mean, his last suspension was for assault, it wasn’t even close to being a hockey play. He just isn’t suitable to be the face of a billion dollar company.

      • silentbob

        I mean I wasn’t saying Clune for C…if Martin was mentioned and hasn’t played a game with the leafs, he should’ve been mentioned over him.
        Overall….I’m saying wait. Have two A’s and have them split the ceremonial faceoffs. Now there’s the real debate…..who should be the two A’s? I’d say Reilly and leo

        • silentbob

          But why wait? One of two things will happen.

          Either one of th younge players like Rielly or Matthews will step up and take a big leadership role with the team. OR they’ll “fall back” and support someone like Laich or Bozak who takes the reigns as the leader.

          Either way there will be a leader(s) in that lockerroom, the convention in hockey is to reconigize that with a C on the jersey, so why shouldn’t the Leafs do that?

  • Foximus

    We dont need anyone to wear the ‘C’ anytime soon. Look at Montreal, they all wear a C and non of em are anywear near a captain. Figure skating ass pirates yes. But no Captain.

    • Kanuunankuula

      At this moment? Gards is better. At defense at least. Overall it’s pretty even, but edge to Jake. Rielly will probs be better though if he keeps getting better. He really needs to fix his defensive side.

  • silentbob

    I’m not a fan of waiting. There will be a leader(s) on this team. I’d identify the veteran who best fills the role, be it Laich or Bozak or whoever and give it to them for a year or two, and then move it to Rielly or Matthews or Marner or which ever younger player wants it and/or deserves it most.

  • Kanuunankuula

    In the topic of a captain, since most of the Leafs are still young players it would not be such a bad idea to share the captaincy among the top three or four players.
    A second option would be to give the C to JVR if he is not going to be traded this year.