The Toronto Maple Leafs May Get a New Captain This Season

There chatter surrounding the possibility naming a new captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs is surrounded by controversy given the way the situation could play out this season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs may have a new captain this upcoming season, making Auston Matthews the frontrunner.
The Toronto Maple Leafs may have a new captain this upcoming season, making Auston Matthews the frontrunner. / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The Toronto Maple Leafs could hand over the torch to a new captain this upcoming season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs current captain, John Tavares, is entering the final year of his massive seven-year $77 million deal.

As of now, there is no indication that contract extension talks have even gotten underway.

That situation alone has fueled speculation that the Toronto Maple Leafs are ready to hand over the captaincy to another player. The obvious choice is Auston Matthews.

The Toronto Maple Leafs May Get a New Captain This Season

A recent piece in The Hockey News quoted Nick Kypreos’ thoughts on the matter:

“From what I’m hearing, the Leafs are contemplating taking the captaincy away from him (Tavares) and giving it to Auston. They will talk about it. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s real.”

Now, I’ve been a John Tavares supporter. I’ve written about how much Tavares should remain captain. He’s a class act and has done everything that’s been expected of him. While he hasn’t been the most vocal or outspoken guy on the team, he’s been the steady link that’s held much of the club together.

It should be no surprise that Leafs management must be ruminating about the thought of slapping the “C” on Auston Matthews’ chest. However, doing so before Tavares leaves via free agency or is traded would send a very negative message.

Think about the optics. It wouldn’t look good to strip a captain of his role just because there’s a more popular player on the team.

Sure, Matthews has grown up to be an elite player. But he’s yet to establish himself as a leader in the way that Nathan MacKinnon has in Colorado. Matthews needs to prove that he’s the real deal come playoff time in order to cement himself as a true captain of the team fully.

I know that the fear is that Tavares will end up wilting away like Anders Lee is on Long Island. But Matthews will need to wait at least one more year before he’s the captain. Waiting for Tavares’ contract to run out is the best way to avoid the negative press that would come from stripping Tavares of his captaincy for no good reason.

Time for a Change of Leadership in Toronto?

I agree that it’s time for a change of leadership. The Leafs have turned over significantly since 2019, when Tavares became captain. In fact, my contention is that the best chance the Leafs had to win a Cup was in 2020 during the bubble playoffs.

Roughly five years later, things are pretty much in the same place. The Leafs haven’t made a significant postseason run. The club doesn’t seem anywhere close to making any considerable progress.

But does stripping Tavares of the captaincy do much to change the situation?

Moreover, is Auston Matthews the type of leadership that fits GM Brad Treliving and coach Craig Berube’s vision?

If anything, Tavares is the right man for the job. Nevertheless, Matthews is the face of the team. From a marketing perspective, Matthews as captain makes sense. Jersey sales will skyrocket with fans wanting to get a Matthews #34 with a “C” pinned on it.


But there’s one caveat to this situation: The Leafs had better be careful about how they handle this situation. Disrespecting Tavares could impact how players see the organization. That may cause current players to think twice about contract extensions, while future free agents may balk at joining the Leafs like Jeff Skinner did.