Whether you dislike Mats Sundin or not, you knew something wasn't quite right with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. The Leafs opted to not appoint a team captain for the 2008-09 campaign, and went with a revolving group of alternate captains instead. Personally, I thought that was the right decision. But heading into next season, is it now the time to name a new captain?
Opinions vary, but here are the top candidates for the position in no particular order:
Luke Schenn - age 19: Schenn was exceptional in his rookie season, providing the Leafs with rock solid defense. He ranked first on the team in hits with 206 and third in blocked shots with 119. His age is an obvious concern, so it's likely he'll be appointed captain in the near future.
Mike Komisarek - age 27: Komisarek once led the league in hits and ranked second in blocked shots. Does he still have it in him after coming off a disappointing season with the Montreal Canadiens? He may have to prove his worth as one of the league's top defensive defenseman again, but his leadership will never be in question. However, considering he has yet to play a game for the Leafs, he's probably not the best candidate, as it may be logical to give the captaincy to someone who is familiar with their teammates. Opinions may vary, but I think a player should not only know the team, but be accustomed to its philosophy before getting the 'C' stitched on his jersey.
Francois Beauchemin - age 29: Like Komisarek, he has yet to lace up the skates for the Leafs. However, Brian Burke is familiar with what he brings to the table and brought him to Toronto for a reason. He's a veteran at 29, and will serve as a leader on a youthful Leafs team. He contributes in both ends of the rink and has a Stanley Cup ring to top it off. You can bet he'll be considered as a potential candidate if the Leafs do decide to appoint a new captain next season.
Niklas Hagman - age 29: Hagman served as an alternate captain for the Leafs last season and may be ready to make the jump. He's capable of playing on both the powerplay and penalty kill, and he will once again be relied upon for leadership. As the Leafs continue to rebuild, however, Hagman may slip down the depth chart, which could hurt his chances. He's definitely a solid candidate, though.
Tomas Kaberle - age 31: Kaberle has been with the Leafs his entire career and might be the logical choice here. However, he's not a vocal leader and even if he were to lead by example, he lacks the defensive play to be considered one of the league's top defensemen. A solid candidate, but is he the best option?
Matt Stajan - age 25: The dark horse of the list. Stajan has progressively gotten better for the Leafs, but last season was his breakout year, notching 15 goals and 55 points. He was reliable on the PK and never shied away from the media no matter what the circumstances. However, he's often criticized for his lack of physicality and balance on his skates. All that aside, it's hard to ignore his efficiency at the face-off circle, as he has a 51.4% success rating in 1177 face-off attempts. In my humble opinion, I think Stajan is underrated by a lot Leafs fans. At the very least, he should be considered for captaincy.
While the Leafs can't go wrong with any of the candidates listed above, I'm of the opinion that another year is in order before naming the next Leafs captain. There’s no question that Schenn has all the qualities of a future captain, but he's probably too young to tackle on the extra responsibility, especially considering he's entering his sophomore season. If Schenn struggles next season, then atleast the Leafs will have a better idea of what Komisarek and Beauchemin are contributing to the club.
Much like everything else related to the Leafs these days, patience will be required.