The Maple Leafs are fortunate to have had three terrific choices to be captain of their hockey club — and now it comes down to either John Tavares or Morgan Rielly.
And there is no wrong pick in that.
Auston Matthews, before the Arizona pants escapade and the months of deception that followed, would have been a fine choice. But that has to be put to rest now, leaving a first-among-equals decision between Tavares and Rielly to wear the great symbolic ‘C’.
Rielly is 25 years old. Tavares just turned 29 the other day, and so much has happened in the past year for him. He signed with the Leafs, got married, moved back to the Toronto area, his wife just gave birth to their first child.
At 29, Tavares is the same age Dave Keon was when he was named Leafs captain and two years younger than when Doug Gilmour was presented with the captaincy.
Mats Sundin was 26 when he was named captain and George Armstrong was 27 but both Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark were 25, same age as Rielly, when they first given the honour.
Tavares has everything you’d want in a captain. He’d be the Leafs version of Captain Serious. He is smart and thoughtful and prepared and respected.
Rielly has just about everything you’d want in a captain, too. He’s more comfortable in the spotlight than either Tavares or Matthews, more at ease with his words and maybe more of a personality. Historically, though, personality hasn’t mattered much.
Clark wasn’t a personality. Neither was Sittler or Keon or Sundin, for that matter. They were great players, all of them effective in their own way, each one different in game and style. Just as Tavares and Rielly are different. Two men and one choice for Leafs management now.
No wrong choice to make between these two.
THIS AND THAT
Getting passed over for captain may actually be the best thing for Auston Matthews in the short term. He doesn’t love being front and centre. He’s not completely comfortable being the spokesman. He’s a little like Mats Sundin that way. He may grow into it one day. For now, he can talk less and score more. That would make him, his team and others happy … Whenever a player gets in some silly difficulty, I always think: What would Don Baizley do? The late Baizley was the model for all hockey agents. I do know this: He wouldn’t have hidden Matthews’ problems from the Maple Leafs. He was too smart and smooth for that … The Leafs weren’t sure they wanted Rasmus Sandin to make their team at age 19. They wanted more seasoning from him. That was the idea. But with Sandin being among their top four defenceman in camp and the pre-season, they have no choice but to keep him and play him. He’s that good. His emergence is reminiscent of Tomas Kaberle, an eighth-round draft pick, who surprisingly made the team in 1998. Pat Quinn didn’t want to keep him but Kaberle played so well in camp he gave him no choice. Kaberle went on to play 878 games for the Leafs … On the list of many challenges for Mike Babcock: Finding enough power-play time for both Rielly and Tyson Barrie. Both defencemen are offensively gifted and should be first power-play options … Among the people who helped Connor McDavid rehab and get ready for the NHL season was reknowned chiropractor to the stars, Mark Lindsay. In the past, Lindsay has worked with Donovan Bailey, Maria Sharapova, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Federer and Mario Lemieux, to name a few … Both the Leafs and the Raptors reached out to U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu with the hopes she would take part in their opening-night festivities. Turns out she’ll be out of the country and unavailable for both dates … The Leafs fourth line of Jason Spezza, Freddie Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov makes sense for more than just hockey reasons. It comes in at just over $2 million combined — which is about as inexpensive a line as you can have in today’s game. And the Leafs need to pinch pennies somewhere to make their salary cap stay in balance.
HEAR AND THERE
Pascal Siakam is the future of the Raptors and a huge part of the present. But here’s what we’re about to find out. Siakam had a great season with the Raps, with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. How different will it be for him once he’s the first scoring option instead of the second or the third? When teams were loading up to stop Leonard, that left Siakam less attended. Now that won’t be true. This season will be discovery time for Siakam and Raptors fans … The three highest paid Raptors — Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka — have a combined salary of $82 million, but are all in the last year of their contracts. That gives Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster all kinds of options for the future … Lowry played more the part of traditional point guard role last season but I figure he’s going to have to return to scoring more this season if the Raptors hope to have any kind of success … This is kind of odd, Patrick Marleau’s streak of 788 consecutive games is not in jeopardy of ending so long as he doesn’t sign an NHL contract. If he signs, he’ll have to play every game his team plays for the streak to continue. That interpretation is straight from the NHL … Should players vote for their captain? Not according to former NHL player and current broadcaster Bill Clement, who once told me that players should decide nothing more important than “window or aisle.”
SCENE AND HEARD
The easy analysis on the Blue Jays: They need pitching. And the rest of the roster is an outfield away from almost being fine. Except the statistics don’t hold up for that point of view. In the offensive statistics baseball people admire most, the Jays end up 11th in the American League in OPS; 14th in on-base percentage; 12th in runs scored. In the meantime, the club will finish eighth in earned-run average in the AL, 10th in quality starts, 10th in WHIP, 10th in batting-average against. Near the bottom in offence, near the bottom in defence, near the bottom in pitching. The weird thing: Statistically they pitched better than they hit this season. And how does that make sense? … The only spot in the Jays batting order to hit above .257, with an OPS above .800 is the leadoff spot. The No. 4 hitters combined to hit .203. The No. 7 hitters batted .209. The No. 9 hitters, hit .213. The outfield, all season long, batted .226 with an on-base percentage below .300 … Really, is there any reason for a team that makes the wild-card spot in baseball to have a champagne clubhouse celebration? Ever seen the eighth seed in the NBA spraying champagne after qualifying for the playoffs … Watching the impressive infield double against the shift by Cavan Biggio made me think: With his bat control, how many hits would Tony Fernandez have playing against today’s shifts … When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. called a press gathering together to clarify his off-season workout schedule, he also said he can’t wait to get home to see his two daughters. Maybe I missed this previously, but I don’t remember hearing about the daughters before this … Russell Martin’s career: 14 big league seasons, 10 times in the playoffs. Josh Donaldson’s career: Eight full seasons in the big leagues, seven times in the playoffs. Pretty remarkable numbers … You have to be impressed with the St. Louis Cardinals for their historical consistency: They’ve been in the playoffs 13 times in the past 19 seasons.
AND ANOTHER THING
Great news to hear the late Randy Starkman will be inducted in the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame. What would have been better news: Starkman, the longtime Toronto Star reporter, being inducted alongside Brian Williams, the voice of the Olympics in Canada … Jeremy Bracco has NHL hands. He’s a top two line player in a Leafs organization with no room on the top two lines … Brian Parker, fired by the Blue Jays, didn’t just draft Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and T.J. Zeuch in 2016. Before that, he also selected Matt Boyd, Kendall Graveman and Rowdy Tellez … The Montreal Alouettes don’t have an owner or a full-time general manager but they’re getting a terrific first season out of new coach Khari Jones, who isn’t signed for next season. The Argos would be smart to try and poach him, if they could, and either show Corey Chamblin the door or move him back to defensive coordinator … Sorry to have missed Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer in Toronto Saturday. It’s just about my favourite charity event of the year … Happy birthday to Kevin Durant (31), Calvin Johnson (34), Dave Andreychuk (56), Mike Pelyk (72), Doug Brown (45), Sebastian Coe (61), Russell Peters (49) and Warren Cromartie (66) … And hey, whatever became of Corey Koskie?
WHAT DOES FUTURE HOLD FOR SHAPIRO, ATKINS?
Ross Atkins is worried about his future with the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays general manager won’t say much about it for obvious reasons but he has one season left on his contract and in professional sports, that makes people nervous. The unanswered question from the always mysterious people who own the Jays: Is Atkins worth investing in for the long term? Is he the GM that can make things happen?
Mark Shapiro has one year left on his deal as president of the Jays. He has floated his name for other positions available in baseball and other sports. In his four seasons on the job, the Jays have gone from 89 wins, to 76, to 73 and heading into Saturday, 65 wins.
This should be the bottom for Shapiro, Atkins and the Jays. The question becomes, how do you take the next two steps — and the two are indeed distinct.
First, they have to get to .500, which is probably two seasons away. The historical difficulty isn’t getting to .500. It’s taking the next step, from 81 wins to 90-plus wins, which would put the Jays in playoff contention. The Jays have only won 90-or-more games six times in 43 seasons. In a division in which the New York Yankees have had 90-plus win seasons 24 times in the Jays history.
This is where Rogers Inc., the owners come in. Shapiro has one more year on his deal. Atkins got a one-year extension this season.
If I owned the team, I wouldn’t commit to either before next season. If they can’t make this better, then it should be time to say goodbye.
POINT, MARNER DEALS AREN’T EVEN CLOSE
Brayden Point, the centre, had 92 points last year with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mitch Marner, the winger, had 94 points with the Leafs.
Under normal circumstances, that should match the two reasonably well at restricted free agent time.
Except the contract Point recently signed in Tampa is far more comparable, albeit less money and shorter term, than the one William Nylander signed with the Leafs. And that was when Nylander, a winger, historically less valuable than a centre, was coming off a 61-point season (two seasons back, Point had 66 points and then 16 playoff points.)
Point’s annual average salary is now $6.75 million a season. Nylander’s AAV comes in at 6.92. Nylander was paid $10 million up front when he signed with the Leafs, more than $2 million more than Point’s initial bonus.
In the three years of the deal, Point will make $20.25 million. In Nylander’s first three years, with three to go, he’ll be paid $27 million. In Marner’s first three years of his deal, he’ll be taking in $41.3 million. For Point to come anywhere close to Marner in years 4-5-6 of the deal, his next contract would have to pay him $14 million or more per season.
Two thoughts on this: Point is significantly underpaid, even when considering the difference in taxes between Florida and Ontario. Considering the market, the Leafs significantly overpaid for both Nylander and Marner.
SOROKA SET TO SHINE UNDER PLAYOFF LIGHTS
I can’t wait to see the baseball playoffs because I can’t wait to watch Canadian Mike Soroka pitch when the bright lights are one and everyone is watching.
What a year this has been for the 22-year-old Soroka, who makes his final start of the season Sunday for the Atlanta Braves.
The kid from Calgary, of all places, is fifth in MLB in earned-run average. The only starting pitchers in the game with a better earned-run average are veterans Justin Verlander, age 36; Jacob deGrom, age 31; Gerrit Cole, age 29 and Hyun-Jin Ryu, age 32. The American League Cy Young Award will be won by either Verlander or Cole. DeGrom might win in the National League again.
That’s the kind of company Soroka is keeping these days.
The post-season will be his greatest stage to date. Atlanta will play St. Louis is the National League Division Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers will play the wild-card winner.
Soroka could get four playoff starts, maybe more. An astounding place for a young Canadian to find himself in early October.