Hall of Fame forward Mats Sundin said Auston Matthews is not the automatic choice to become the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next captain.
The team has not had a designated captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators in February of 2016. Forwards Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov and defenseman Morgan Rielly were alternate captains last season.
Sundin was the Maple Leafs’ captain from 1997-2008 after taking over for Doug Gilmour. Toronto did not have a designated captain for two seasons after Sundin left.
“It’s easy to say Auston Matthews, he should be the captain,” Sundin told TSN 1050. “But saying that, it has to be a player and a person that also wants to carry that responsibility and actually plays better wearing the C.”
New general manager Kyle Dubas said there is no urgency to name a captain.
Matthews was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, but doesn’t turn 21 until September. The Maple Leafs have lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of Matthews’ first two NHL seasons after reaching the playoffs just once in the previous 11 seasons.
“Most of the great leaders I played with, they lead by example, they lead by the way they play on the ice, they compete the most, they treat their players in their dressing room in a very professional way, they treat everybody the same, whether you’re a player, or equipment manager, or the person down in the garage where you park your car,” Sundin said.
“They are professional off the ice, they’re first in the gym. You want that kind of culture as your leader, and when you have someone like that ... especially if you have the highest-paid guy, or one of your star players, the rest of the team’s going to follow that. When I look at a leader, that’s what I want to see.”
However, Sundin said reports of a rift between Matthews and Maple Leafs coach Mike Babock should not be cause for concern.
“That happens every other day, but it doesn’t get to media most of the time,” Sundin said. “Hey, it’s such a competitive environment, as players, and as coaches, and especially in a city like Toronto where there’s so much expectations on the group and (coming) out of the group, that when you feel like you’re not maybe reaching the full potential of that, there’s obviously tempers flaring. So I think that’s just part of playing at an elite level, of any sport, but especially in a franchise like Toronto.”
—Field Level Media