Toronto Maple Leafs: Time to Name Morgan Rielly Captain

TORONTO, ON-Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares, Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews talk before a face off in the Nashville Predators zone in Toronto on Monday (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star) (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON-Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares, Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews talk before a face off in the Nashville Predators zone in Toronto on Monday (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star) (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The 2018-19 season has concluded for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so we begin to look ahead to next season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs gave it their all, but couldn’t defeat their Goliath in the Boston Bruins. Although we can discuss a few things that the Leafs need to fix in order to improve for next season, there’s one aspect of the team that may seem so minor, but its addition could go a long way in making a difference.

That aspect is the team’s captaincy.

The Leafs haven’t had a captain since February 2016, after the team traded then-captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in a nine-player trade. Three years later, the Leafs have rebuilt this team from the ground up and gone from having no candidates for the captaincy to having multiple legitimate choices for the ideal team captain.

It’s been three years. And although Leafs fans have been OK with the fact that there hasn’t been a captain, following the progressive narrative that every player can lead by example, the addition of a set captain can be critical to the improvement of this team. Having one set leader – one who feels the ultimate responsibility to carry this team to the promised land, would act like a shepherd leading his flock.

With one ideal leader set, the rest will follow and everyone will know their role. Not to mention, it’ll take some pressure off of other guys who are trying to step up their leadership role. It’s about time the Leafs name a captain, but who will it be?

Multiple Options

I can vividly remember the point when Phaneuf got traded and I took a look at the Leafs’ roster and thought, “there’s nobody on this roster who I can see getting the C anytime soon.” The only player with potential was Morgan Rielly, who was just 22 at the time. Other than him, the options took a steep decline with the likes of Nazem Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk being the next best choices.

Fast forward to 2019 though and the Leafs have a star-studded roster complete with a number of viable leaders. Morgan Rielly, now 25, remains a strong choice, just like he did back in 2016. But the Leafs have also added stars like Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner, who are all capable of leading a team in one way or another.

For Matthews, being a first overall pick and a superstar, he has known to handle pressure from a young age, which is a crucial quality to have, especially in a hockey-crazy city like Toronto. He’s also great with the media, another crucial trait for the captain of the Leafs. Ever since the Leafs drafted him, he has been the face of the team and it makes sense that he has always been a leading candidate for the captaincy.

But then the Leafs added Tavares last offseason. Tavares has all those traits Matthews has in being a similar franchise player, but at 28 years old, he also has much more experience in the NHL and he also has experience as a captain, leading the New York Islanders from 2013-2018.

Finally, Mitch Marner wasn’t always a candidate for the Leafs’ captaincy, but after his breakout season this year, many people are arguing that he may have a spot in the conversation. I personally don’t think he’ll end up as captain, but being the heart and soul of the team and having that immense talent says something about him.

Captain Morgan Has My Vote

If you asked me over the last two seasons who I thought should be the Leafs captain, it was between Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly. However, I definitely tended to lean more favourably to the former rather than the latter. Matthews just had everything it took to become a leader in my eyes and many other fans’ eyes, as I mentioned before. However, being young and inexperienced was the one thing holding him back from being this team’s captain.

But Morgan Rielly has really stepped up this season and in my opinion, he should be the Leafs next captain. Not only has he had a breakout season (20 goals, 52 assists in 82 games), illustrating his elite calibre of skill, but he’s shown he can be a leader on this team. I’ve noticed that both his composure with the media and the way he leads by example has improved. He puts the team first before anything else and his maturity is hard to miss. Not to mention, the past incident involving Rielly and the use of a supposed homophobic slur could have turned out bad, but after the discovery that the claim was incorrect, Rielly proved his maturity in handling the situation appropriately.

Above all, Rielly is a home-grown talent, which in my eyes is a crucial selling point for his bid for captaincy. Yes, Matthews is also home-grown, but Rielly has been with Toronto through their ups and downs. He has spent his time with the Toronto Marlies and has put up with losing seasons. He is currently the third longest-serving leaf, just behind Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner. His poise and his talent over this time elevates his stature as a Maple Leaf who should end his career here in Toronto.

As they fight for the Cup, who else should lead the team than the one who has shown maturity through it all?

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Truth be told, the Leafs can’t go wrong with naming any of these guys captain, either way, the team is in good hands. But Morgan Rielly stands out as the best choice for the team’s leader. The captain doesn’t always have to be the best player, but it should go to the player who best exemplifies the team’s values.