All over Twitter this week, people have been advocating for Auston Matthews to become the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In my opinion, Matthews isn’t the way to go.
I’m not denying that Matthews is a great player. The kid has 111 goals, 94 assists for 205 points in 212 games. But being a great player doesn’t mean you’ll make a great captain.
But, there is another player on the team that would make a more suitable captain than Matthews:
Morgan Rielly is a better choice for the captaincy over Matthews and here is why:
If you don’t know, Morgan Rielly is a 25-year-old defenseman who’s got 6 seasons of NHL experience under his belt. He has been apart of the Maple Leafs since 2013-14 after being drafted 5th overall by the Leafs back in 2012. The first 3 seasons of his career, the Maple Leafs struggled in the standings and missed out on playoffs. Rielly has stuck with this team through some of their worst times, still going out on the ice playing with 110% effort.
Even as the team was battling with points in the standings, Rielly was climbing his way up the score sheet. His first 4 seasons, Morgan was between 27 and 36 points a season but then boosted his game. In his 5th season, the defenseman put up 52 points and last season (his 6th season), he achieved 72 points (20 G, 52 A).
You can’t deny that Morgan Rielly is a guy who puts in the time and kicks ass on the ice. By his 3rd season, Rielly was managing the most minutes per game at just 21-years-old. He led the team in ice time for 3 seasons so far: 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2018-2019. He’s averaged a 51.1% Corsi For on the ice over the past 4 seasons.
And before you begin with “MaTtHeWs HaS bEtTeR nUmBeRs”, numbers don’t mean everything, as I mentioned before. But here, have a look at their side by side stats if you want:
The reason I bring up Rielly’s increase in minutes and points is that these stats tell you a lot about Rielly as a person. He’s determined as hell and when he sets a goal, he achieves it.
Rielly is mature, both in play and in person, and knows in his place on this team as one of their leaders. When he speaks people listen.
Now, he doesn’t have the ice cool, serious glare of Jonathan Toews and Zdeno Chara or the God-Given Skill fo a Generation like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. But Rielly does have the leadership skills that it takes to lead a team through their highs and lows like those captains have.
He’s a perfect mix of these HoF captains: he can be silly when the team needs it but he can be serious when the time calls for it. Rielly can handle the media with a cool attitude that makes them stop their shit before it even starts. He already leads this team on and off the ice with humility and a competitive edge.
Having the best numbers and points does NOT make a captain. If that were true then half the captains in the NHL wouldn’t be captains, their teammate would be. What sets them apart is their skills when it comes to interacting with their teammates, staff, and media.
For example, when Jake Gardiner was booed by Leaf fans last season, Rielly stood by him. He didn’t give the media a PR-cut statement like “well we all make mistakes, there’s always next game” and just move on. He took the statement to heart and reminded the media that Gardiner is human too. On January 14th, 2019, Rielly told the press:
“He works hard, his teammates love him, he’s the most popular guy in this room. He works hard. Guys make mistakes out there all night, that’s the way the game goes, it’s played on ice. So things happen that can be unpredictable.” (via Kristen Shilton on Twitter)
Regardless of whatever your take might be Gardiner’s mistake, Rielly telling the media that Gardiner is still an important part of their team is ballsy. The Toronto media is usually out for blood, especially after a lost game.
Rielly doesn’t hold back from telling them to get off Gardiner’s back. That’s being a captain. Sticking up for your guys when they need it the most.
You know that in the thicket of a rough season, which turned into his last in Toronto, this statement probably meant a lot to Jake Gardiner. Plus one Bonus Point for Mo.
In all of this, I’m not dogging on Matthews. He’s an amazing player and very important to the Maple Leafs but at this point in his career, he’s not fit to be the captain. Morgan Rielly is the perfect pick for the Toronto Maple Leafs next captain and I’d be really disappointed if Toronto went a different way on this one.
(And if in the end, Toronto picks no captain, I’ll still have 0 regrets about writing a 900-word blog about Morgan Rielly)
Featured Image: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images