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Maple Leafs close to naming captain, Babcock says

Matthews, Tavares, Rielly candidates for role vacant since 2016

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

PARADISE, Newfoundland -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of naming a captain, coach Mike Babcock said Friday.

"We're fortunate we have a real good leadership group," Babcock said after the Maple Leafs completed their first day of training camp at Paradise Double Ice Arena. "Now obviously we'll announce our decision coming up and we'll end the speculation."

Toronto has not had a captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 9, 2016. Defenseman Morgan Rielly and forwards Auston Matthews and John Tavares are among the candidates.


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Tavares was captain of the New York Islanders for five seasons before signing as a free agent with the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018. He and Jason Spezza (with the Senators) are the two current Maple Leafs who have been an NHL captain. 

Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is entering his fourth season with Toronto, and Rielly, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is entering his seventh. 

Babcock said he believes that a captain is someone who leads by example. He mentioned Kawhi Leonard, who helped the Toronto Raptors win the NBA championship last season. 

"He came into town and changed things overnight with unbelievable demeanor, with stick-to-it-ness, like I haven't seen with a competitive edge," Babcock said. "Not bothered by much. Left all his talking to his play. And they ended up winning a championship and making people better around him. 

"To me, that's leadership. That's what you do. You bring it every single day."

Video: Morgan Rielly lands at No. 7 on the list

Among players who have been captain for a Babcock-coached team: center Sidney Crosby for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Steve Yzerman and Henrik Zetterberg with the Detroit Red Wings. Babcock said there is a common thread between those players.

"Those guys all had something to say when they needed to say it," Babcock said. "But there's no question that leadership isn't what you say, it's what you do, and people are watching you every day and how you do it. And they're watching if you slip. Good habits are every single day. And guys that drive franchises and win championships do it every day. And they don't do it every day because someone tells them to."

Matthews echoed Babcock's sentiments when asked what his own leadership strengths are.

"I just go about my business and let my play and my actions do the talking," Matthews said. "I think [leadership] comes from everybody. That letter, it's bestowed on one guy, but I think it's a group effort from the whole leadership group and the whole team."

Matthews has 205 points (111 goals, 94 assists) in 212 games in his first three NHL seasons.

"He has a presence in the dressing room for sure," Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen said. "Guys certainly watch the way he does things."

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