Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello sat down with hockey insider Pierre Lebrun for a 1-on-1 video interview, which will be released at some point in the near future on TSN platforms. To hype everybody up for it, the network posted a 30 or so second teaser, in which Lamoriello drops a bit of insight towards where the team’s leadership is headed in the short term:
Lebrun: “The team doesn’t have a captain, they didn’t have a captain this past season. Is that something you see the team addressing before next season, or is it something that can wait another year?
Lamoriello: Right now, that isn’t something in the forefront. I think that we’ve had tremendous leadership this year, with a lot of young players, and I don’t think that right now is something that’s on the forefront or is being considered at this point. I would not be surprised if we did not have a captain next year.
Presently, the Maple Leafs don’t have a captain and haven’t had one since trading Dion Phaneuf in the middle of the 2015/16 season. This is considered a relative oddity in the hockey world; only Toronto and the Carolina Hurricanes are presently without one. The Hurricanes’ situation is similar to the Leafs; they traded Eric Staal in 2016 and have yet to declare a replacement, having gone so few in their history.
Toronto tends to take the status attached to the role pretty seriously, doing their best to avoid the assignment being a temporary one. It’s been over 60 years since the Leafs have had a single-year-captain, and, save for Rob Ramage, every captain the Leafs have ever had has spent at least half a decade with the Leafs as a player.
Certainly, Toronto has a good mix of mid-youth to early-veteran players who are capable of filling the role now, but given the team’s current state, there’s no guarantee that any of them will be around to wear it for very long. Handing it to an early favourite to wear it like Auston Matthews or Morgan Rielly seems pretty logical, but it could add unnecessary outside pressure to players already under the microscope.
Practically speaking, the Leafs don’t have to be in any rush to make a decision here; they’ve gone multiple years without a captain on two prior occasions and, given that the letter’s on-ice edge is priority to speak to a referee and an expectation to take ceremonial faceoffs, there’s no real need to make that happen now. Today, it’s about marketing and legacy more than anything else, and the Leafs are in a position to worry about not damaging the latter more so than doubling down on the former.
Though, it would be cool if Matthews were named in time to take the “youngest ever” record away, even if it’s likely to get smashed again in the next few years with the way that trend has gone.