The Next to Wear the "C"
Another weekend, another crazy Mats Sundin rumour.
It's been that way for a while, and it's going to stay that way until Sundin decides on his future, a decision that seems no closer today than it was in April
Good for him. The man's in a position to call the shots on his own career, and who among us wouldn't cherish such an opportunity.
The Maple Leafs are still hoping No. 13 will make the most illogical decision of all and return to them, perhaps so they can try to trade him for a third time next February.
That's at least part of the reason why the club hasn't named a new captain, a situation that may not change any time soon.
In fact, the current leadership vacuum is comparable to the period from 1986-89 when the Leafs didn't have a captain at all in the wake of a trade that sent 50-goal shooter Rick Vaive to Chicago. Eventually, the "C" was awarded for the 1989-90 season to Rob Ramage, a solid, veteran defenceman who became the first player in team history to be named captain without having played a single game for the team.
During the years in which the club didn't have a captain, there were young players like Wendel Clark, Gary Leeman, Al Iafrate and Russ Courtnall who were strong prospects but deemed to be too young to assume the leadership mantle left by Vaive.
Which brings us to today, a time when again the Leafs have many youngsters, none of whom have been through the wars enough to lead the team, and a large group of mostly undistinguished veterans. Assuming Sundin doesn't return, the most sensible choice might be to at least temporarily assign the captaincy on a rotating basis like teams such as Buffalo and Minnesota have done in recent seasons.
Then again, Cliff Fletcher's into bold decisions these days. If he and new head coach Ron Wilson decide there must be a captain for the 2008-09 season, here are the candidates:
-- Tomas Kaberle: Classy puck-moving defenceman is the longest-serving Leaf, although new backup goalie Curtis Joseph was on the roster when Kaberle broke into the Toronto lineup in 1998. Kaberle would be a quiet leader in the same mold as Sundin or Nicklas Lidstrom, although he's not been the player over the course of his career that they have been. The biggest problem might be that Kaberle was also on the trading block in February but refused to waive his no-trade clause.
-- Nik Antropov: Last year was his best, but it was just one year. Doesn't have the personality to serve as captain.
-- Vesa Toskala: Sorry, goalies can't be captains according to NHL rules.
-- Matt Stajan: Has many of the proper qualities, but still too young.
-- Alex Steen: His father, Tomas, served as Winnipeg's co-captain in the late 1980s. Unlike Stajan, however, Steen hasn't established himself as a credible leader inside the dressing room.
-- Bryan McCabe: No chance, although he's been an NHL captain before. McCabe is slated to be moved in a trade ASAP.
-- Carlo Colaiacovo: Has many of the best qualities, but would need to be healthy for a lengthy period to establish himself. Then again, Clark served as captain despite an injury-scarred career.
-- Jamal Mayers: The Leafs acquired the veteran winger for his experience and personality as much as his talent. Giving the "C" to Mayers would be like giving it to Ramage in '89, and we all know how the Leafs love to repeat history.