Auston Matthews has, oddly, never worn the captain’s sweater for any team he’s played on. He’s been so good for so much of his young career that the opportunity never arose, as he’s constantly played for teams with players a couple years older than him mostly making up the roster.
But none of that supposed lack of experience matters, and with the Toronto Maple Leafs yet to name a captain in this new era, the Matthews Era really, it’s time for his letter-less streak to end. Matthews clearly wants to be the captain in Toronto. He’s always wanted it. He is the captain in Toronto.
Instead of reading whether Tavares or Matthews should be the Leafs captain, remember that you could reading a discussion online on whether Mark Borowiecki or Zack Smith should be the Senators captain
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) September 18, 2018
There have been rumblings from a few media personalities that this summer would be the one where the Leafs finally name a captain, to this point going without since the departure of Dion Phaneuf a hundred years ago. Some have speculated it will be Matthews. This week, speaking to Craig Morgan of The Athletic, Matthews himself made it clear he’s ready to take on the role and be the true face of Toronto sports.
“The captaincy in hockey, in general, is a huge honor, but especially in Toronto. You see the names of the guys that have come before you. We have all the captains’ banners lined up for us in our practice rink. You know the names, what they brought to the team, their competitiveness, what they did throughout the community, so it’s a bit of a bigger honor, in my opinion, to bestow that in Toronto.”
Sure this is a pretty standard quote that you’d expect, but it’s clear Matthews knows he’s a superstar in the biggest hockey market on earth. He’s never shied away from that in the slightest, instead bringing a level of flash and intensity to the Leafs’ on-ice product that’s unrivaled league-wide. Since his arrival he’s shown that players shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate goals with a bit of showing off, and away from the rink he’s embraced his media exposure in a way others don’t, opting to gravitate toward his interests in fashion and such. If there’s someone who will bring in a new era of the NHL where the stars can be themselves, Matthews should be at the front of that line. There have also been repeated reports of his extensive charity work in the GTA, which he tries to do in as much secrecy as possible. He knows how to balance his professional hockey career in the spotlight and away from it. For Leafs fans, Matthews has been so much more than advertised, and as a number one pick there was a lot to get hyped about. He’s blown all that out of the water.
We don’t need to get into any numbers or whatnot to make an argument here – it’s a letter on a sweater, an honour. The Leafs have a few extremely gifted offensive talents, but while Matthews is one of them, he’s also the pivot point of this team in every other way. It was when he pulled on the blue and white jersey on the draft stage that the team finally took the turn it needed to in order to be competitive and worth cheering for again.
And sure, there’s always talk about how “there are plenty of leaders in the room” like John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, and so on, which points to how the captaincy really is and has always been mostly symbolic. You won’t get an argument from me about that. But just like Mats Sundin came to define the era in which he played in Toronto, Matthews has come to do the same. If the ‘C’ really is symbolic, I can think of no better symbol than Matthews wearing it in what’s become the Leafs’ first true contention window in the post-lockout era. It’s his team, let it be known officially.