Opinion: New Arrivals Should Not Become Captains

The Toronto Maple Leafs made the biggest splash in free agency this season, with the signing of star centre John Tavares. As the season approaches, many wonder if Tavares should be named the captain of the Maple Leafs this year. This will explain why I believe not only Tavares, new acquisitions in general should NOT be named captain in their first season.
Just to clarify, when I say "new arrivals," I mean players who have yet to play their first season for a new team. So I'm not saying a player like Tavares should never be captain of the Leafs, just not in his first year.

1. Pressure
Nine times out of 10, if a newly acquired player is in the captaincy conversation of a team before even suiting up once for them, the player has some very high expectations to live up to. Using Tavares as an example, a former captain of the New York Islanders signing a 7-year contract at 11 million dollars per season, will have a expectations higher than the CN tower. Many fans would even argue anything less than 100 points for Tavares this season would be a failure. That's an awful lot of pressure, especially given he will need to adjust to a different coaching method and style of play. Tack on the captaincy, and Tavares has even more pressure in Toronto than he did during his time in New York when he was expected to be the saviour of the franchise.

2. Coal into Diamonds, or Diamonds into Dust?
Some might argue that pressure can improve a player. Players who can perform well under pressure, specifically in the playoffs, are incredibly valuable to a team. While I can agree with that, it's also equally likely that players will fold under so much stress in their first season on a new team. Take players like Karl Alzner and Alex Galchenyuk.

Alzner had come from an excellent team in Washington over to Montreal, and all eyes were on him. He was the big signing for the Canadiens in 2017, and would have to fill the gap that Andrei Markov left after departing for Russia. Sufficient to say he did not live up to expectations, and that is why Alzner's contract is frequently examined using CapFriendly's buyout calculator.

Galchenyuk is another example. Drafted third overall in 2012, he was expected to jump straight into the Canadiens lineup, become the top line centre they've been missing for years, and carry the team to the cup. This also fell through, so much so that he found himself on the fourth line wing for an extended amount of time, and was eventually traded in June for Max Domi. This is another instance of a player cracking under the pressure of astronomical expectations.

"Well this seems like a Montreal problem, who says it would happen elsewhere?" you might think. Well let's take a look at the Maple Leafs, the team Tavares is headed to. After trading away three picks that turned into Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, and Jared Knight, the Leafs landed themselves Phil Kessel. He lead the Maple Leafs in scoring for all six seasons he played for the team. But like Galchenyuk, he was looked upon to be the saviour of the franchise. But after missing the playoffs five seasons out of six, the media was eating Kessel alive, and he was eventually dealt in July of 2015. Even now he can't escape the media, being asked about the Maple Leafs after winning the Stanley Cup twice with his new team.

Pressure could be fine after the player has time to adjust and grow accustomed to their new team. However, if a player is expected to be incredible in their first season with his new team, the player could crumble as shown with these three examples.

3. If Not Tavares, Then Who? 
Why is everyone in such a rush to name a captain for the Maple Leafs? They've made the playoffs twice without one yet. Many teams can have "silent" leaders (i.e. Carey Price or Shea Weber for Montreal) who can help their team in the locker room without an extra status symbol on their jersey. I could even argue a team of three or even four alternate captains is better alternative, especially in a market as media-heavy as Toronto. At least then, the blame isn't set entirely on one player (usually your best player), who then has to deal with thousands of eyes burning a hole into your head while you try to help your team win.

Using the current Leafs roster as an example, I've already stated that I disagree with Tavares being named captain this year. Matthews is still young, and should probably be allowed to finish his E.L.C. before captain talks begin with him. Players like Morgan Rielly or Patrick Marleau would be better choices in my opinion (although Marleau will likely retire in two years, so you may want to forego that altogether). They've learned the system the team operates and have gotten to know the players better than a player like Tavares, and have significantly more NHL experience than Matthews or Marner (the other two common candidates brought up in the conversation).

Previous Page Next Page Home