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Maple Leafs may name captain by season opener

Alternates Rielly, Tavares among candidates for post vacant since 2016

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs could name a captain by the time they open their season against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

"We've met as a management team. We've talked about this a ton," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Friday. "We've met with our leadership group. We've gone through it, all this stuff. We're just on course to do what we were planning on doing the whole time."

Babcock suggested the decision could come before they Leafs begin the regular season.


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Center John Tavares and defenseman Morgan Rielly were alternate captains for Toronto last season and are candidates to become the Maple Leafs' first captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Senators on Feb. 9, 2016. Forward Patrick Marleau, who also was an alternate captain last season, was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on June 22 and is a free agent.

"I just think we've been through the process now, we've been together for a while, we've got good players and good people, we have a good leadership group," Babcock said. "We're going to end up with guys who don't wear letters who are going to be a big part of our leadership group, and that's just part of it."

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 from 2013-18. About to begin his 11th NHL season, he's one of two Toronto players, with center Jason Spezza, who was captain of Ottawa for one season (2013-14), to have previously been a captain in the NHL.

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Rielly, selected by Toronto with the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is entering his seventh NHL season.

"It's hard to say if [the captaincy] will have an effect on the ice, but there's obviously a special significance with the Maple Leafs, the city, the franchise with the captain," Tavares said. "It's obviously been an important role in hockey history and with many franchises. Many great captains, great leaders. 

"For us, I'd like to think overall not much will change. Guys will continue to be themselves. Obviously if that happens, someone in that aspect will have more responsibilities in their daily life. Other than that, you're the same person and rely on your teammates every day … You go out there and have fun and go about the day."

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