Friday, October 3, 2008
The Debate Recap: Who Will be the Next Leader of the Leafs?
"Lead: to go before or with to show the way..."
Back in August, plenty of members of the Barilkosphere raised the question... Who should be the Leafs' next captain?
Given that the puck drops on the 2008-2009 season in just a few days, it seemed like a good idea to re-open the question. New coach Ron Wilson and Grandpa Cliffy have already gone on record as saying that this team is unlikely to compete for the Cup this year, which is a hint of pragmatism that has been sorely lacking from this club in the post-lockout era. The reality is that Darryl Sittler is not walking through that door! Wendal Clark is not walking through that door. Doug Gilmour is not walking through that door!
With that in mind, here's a quick look at the potential candidates we're stuck with this year and their stance on the issues...
Tomas Kaberle - The most natural and most popular choice repeated throughout the Barilkosphere. The longest serving Leaf. Hard to make too strong a case against him, except that he was a member of the Muskoka 5 and would be a leader cut from the mold of Sundin - not overly vocal and letting his play lead the way. The club could do worse.
Mats Sundin - Speaking of Sundin, I'm sorry to say it, but he's not walking through that door either. While some think he's still got the "jam" to come back and play this year - whatever the hell that means - at this point it seems impossible to believe that he'll be back in a TML uniform. This is going to be a bad club, and everyone knows it. Mats included. As the definition states above, to lead is to "go with." Mats isn't here - and as such shouldn't be considered for the Captain position. I also can't believe that, if he does make a miraculous return to Hogtown, whether it be sometime in November or December, or beyond, that Ron Wilson and the team will just give the "C" to a guy who couldn't be bothered to be with the team from the start. I'm calling it now: the Mats era is over. RIP. 1997-2008.
Antropov/Kubina - Borat and Kubina are good players who haven't been good long enough, or around long enough. Let's see them both improve on the seasons they had last year and emerge as true leaders of this team, and then we can start talking.
Steen/Stajan - I lump of 'em together for the sake of getting this post up quickly. They are pretty good young players who have a lot of development to do if they want a roster spot for years to come. Neither of them have ever lead this team anywhere, so why bother putting the extra pressure on them to be Captain of this terrible team? If they want that role - let them grow into it and earn it, rather than thrusting it onto them far too early in their careers.
Jamal Mayers - A hustle guy. A grinder. By all accounts a good guy. But a new face and not the Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Luke Schenn - With every game that passes, and every Leaf d-man that goes down with injury, it looks more and more likely that this kid is going to start the season with the big club. Right now he looks like a future Norris Trophy winner and a steady hand on the blue line for years to come. If it turns out that way, he may very well be wearing the "C" sooner than we think. Not this soon though.
Curtis Joseph - Roberto Luongo was recently tabbed as Captain of the Canucks and is expected to, as the National Post unfortunately put it, "lead the way from behind." Why can't CuJo do the same? Despite Mike Toth's shot at the guy (whatever those "shots" are worth), and despite the fact that he bailed on the Leafs during a teary presser back when this team was at a crossroads, his career has suffered for it. But more importantly, he knows it. CuJo has come back to T.O. with baseball hat in hand, humbled by the experience, knowing that his role would be to wear that baseball hat rather than a mask, and with the goal to help guide the younger guys through the process of adjusting to life in the NHL. This isn't a team built to win right now, and the focus should be on that growth and development of the younger players so that they do, indeed, turn into regular NHL starters - and god forbid, stars. Its not an outrageous choice and, on the upside, it would mean no one would actually wear the "C" this year. That's change I can believe in.
Conclusion: I have to side with Down Goes Brown on this one: Don't give it to anyone. But, if they feel they have to, then give it to CuJo. In the interim, put three "A's" on the ice each game and rotate them between Kaberle, Borat, Kubina, Stajan/Steen, and whoever else steps up and earns the recognition. Use it as a carrot to reward guys throughout the season, and to introduce them to the concept of leadership - instead of thrusting it onto those who don't want it and can't handle it. Of course, if Mats does come back, then save a permanent "A" for him. We can't stay mad at you forever, Mats!
Since the fate of this franchise seems to be in limbo, along with its management structure, let's just leave the captaincy in that same state until someone reaches up and grabs it.