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Matthews says being Maple Leafs captain 'not something I focus on'

Center leaves debate over himself, Tavares to coach Babcock, GM Dubas

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- When it comes to the debate about the captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews isn't getting involved.

That's for coach Mike Babcock and general manager Kyle Dubas to decide, the center said.

"I'm not the one making the decisions, right?" Matthews said Thursday. "In the end, Kyle, Babs, everybody, they're preaching patience. In the end, they'll figure something out, but it's not something I focus on. I just focus on getting better."

 

[RELATED: Matthews, Maple Leafs talking contract extensionMaple Leafs add Tavares, eye deep playoff run]

 

The public consensus in Toronto was that Matthews, who turns 21 on Sept. 17, was the captain-in-waiting for the Maple Leafs.

That general opinion changed when Toronto signed center John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract July 1. Tavares, who turns 28 on Sept. 20, was captain of the New York Islanders from 2013-18.

Forward Mitchell Marner said the players aren't worried about who becomes next captain.

"Player wise, I don't think it matters who wears the 'C' on their jersey," Marner said. "That's the good thing about our team: All of us lead in our own way.

"The older guys in our room all lead by example, and the young guys are trying to learn from that and get better. Obviously, the captain's rule is not a players debate. It's up to the coach and GM to decide."

Video: Projecting the Maple Leafs' lineup for 2018-19

Even if it doesn't matter to the players, the question of Matthews or Tavares as next Maple Leafs captain has dominated the talk shows in Toronto.

Matthews said he wasn't captain much in youth hockey.

"I played up a couple of levels, so you don't usually make a young guy who's two or three years younger the captain," he said.

Toronto has not had a captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016. Phaneuf had been captain since the 2010-11 season. Last season, defenseman Morgan Rielly and forwards Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov were alternate captains; Bozak (St. Louis Blues) and Komarov (Islanders) left as free agents.

During the Tavares introductory press conference July 1, Dubas said there is no urgency to name a captain.

"In my experience with teams, when we've rushed decisions like that, it's turned out poorly for the organization," Dubas said at the time. "I don't want to, especially here and now, where we're at, rush a decision, especially before we see how the group fits together. We want to see how the group works together and we'll see where we're at.

"If there's someone in our group that we feel is ready and the team is ready, we'll deal with it at that time. I know it's a popular question, but it's not something we'll rush because it is an important distinction to be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. We have some great leaders, John among them, and we'll see where it goes when it becomes apparent to us all."

Video: Can the Maple Leafs keep their young core intact?

Tavares said the issue of the captaincy did not come up during his negotiations with Toronto.

That hasn't stopped former Maple Leafs captains from offering their opinion in the debate this offseason.

During an interview with TSN 1050 Toronto on May 26, five weeks before Tavares signed, Mats Sundin said Matthews should not be a sure bet for the captaincy.

"It's easy to say Auston Matthews, he should be the captain," said Sundin, who was Maple Leafs captain from 1997-2008. "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.

"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. 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."

Video: Sneak peek of Tavares and Matthews skating together

Rick Vaive, who was Toronto captain from 1981-86, said Tavares is his choice.

"I think you'd have to ask him, but I don't think he'd have a problem with it because I think that him as a captain, he's gonna make these young guys work that much harder to be the best they can possibly be," Vaive told Sportsnet 590 Toronto on July 5. "Not that they don't work hard already, but nobody does it like Johnny, and I can tell you that for fact."

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