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Tavares says next captain of Maple Leafs will be 'great one'

Center sees many strong candidates, would be honored if selected

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- John Tavares said the chance to be Toronto Maple Leafs captain would be an honor but noted whoever is selected will have a strong leadership group in place to help him.

"No question being a Maple Leaf and the history, what it means, the tradition, the connection to the fan base and city, it's a big deal but at the same time you don't want to let it change you," Tavares said Monday after skating with teammates. "You just want to be yourself and play your game but whatever happens, I know we're going to have a great one, whoever it is. We want to all support whoever it is."

Toronto has not had a captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016; and general manager Kyle Dubas has said naming a captain is a significant decision because of the responsibility it carries for an Original Six team.

Tavares, who signed a seven-year contract with Toronto as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2018, was captain of the New York Islanders for five seasons (2013-18) and is one of two Maple Leafs along with Jason Spezza, who was captain of the Ottawa Senators for one season (2013-14), to have been a captain in the NHL.

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"I know from my time being a captain, you realize how important the people are around you, that you don't have all the answers and that you have to lean on your teammates," Tavares said. "When you have so many great players, great people, guys who can lead and could wear the C here and be that guy, you realize just how much you can lean on everyone else because you've got all those guys around you to lift you up and help you when things aren't going well."

Tavares, who had an NHL career-high 88 points (47 goals, 41 assists) in 82 games last season, mentioned several of his teammates he feels worthy of the honor.

Defenseman Morgan Rielly.

"Morgan being here as long as he has (six seasons) and his maturity level, you can see it in his game and how he carries himself off the ice, just very level headed especially as a defenseman which is a very tough position to play with the amount of load he carries," Tavares said.

Forward Mitchell Marner, who remains a restricted free agent.

"[Marner] has an incredible energy about him, just brings the room to life and the way he impacts the game in so many different areas, the way he plays it is so unique," Tavares said.

Center Auston Matthews.

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"Auston's presence, his talent, his ability and drive to be one of the best players in the League is incredible," Tavares said.

Matthews was asked about the Maple Leafs captaincy at the NHL Player Media Tour on Friday and, like Tavares, said there are several outstanding candidates

"Depending on who it is, I don't think it makes that much of a difference because I think everyone on their own is a leader and brings something different to the team," Matthews said. "That core group of guys are the guys who need to step up and say whatever is needed to be said."

Tavares said if he ultimately is awarded the captaincy, he would not approach the role in Toronto any differently than he did while with the Islanders.

"I think I was very fortunate to be the captain in New York for a great franchise with a lot of history and so many great players who had worn the C there beforehand," Tavares said. "You just don't take something like that for granted, there's only so many in the League and certainly for a franchise like the Maple Leafs with its history and tradition. I wouldn't want to look at things differently just because you're given a responsibility. 

"You're given it because of who you are and how you've carried yourself to that point. You may deal with a handful of things differently but in terms the way you approach every day, your preparation and playing on the ice and overall focus and mindset, to me, doesn't really change."

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