Tag Archive for Auston Matthews

Who’s the Captain of this Barge?

1219 for publication April 28, 2017

Ross Brewitt

Who’s the newest captain of the Leafs going to be?

The question was first raised by “Mike,” a long-serving friend of mine and a lifelong subscriber to the Maple Leaf lifestyle. These days his calendar is filled with figuring out where all the pieces fit, what new pieces they’ll need, and it’s not like he’s alone.

A few generations of Leaf fans, some able to cheer their heroes forward with more than a quick-fix on to base their enthusiasm on, are enjoying the luxury of “looking ahead” as opposed to looking back, at old glories in the fading rear-view mirror. We expect these legions to grow considering the numbers coming out of the closet after years of submerging their backing and allegiance.

Based on the performance of the present Leafs, holding a top team in hockey down to six games decided by one goal, eight periods of extra-fun hockey played over six games, and only one concluded without overtime, underlines how the Leafs came that close to upsetting “number one” over the regular season.

By mid-term it was expected the Leafs were a better team, a competitive team. No-one knew how long it would last, or how it would translate into a playoff atmosphere. Now they find themselves the toast of Leaf fans coast-to-coast. Even better, there are those inside hockey and other fans who admire what they’ve accomplished.

The reality will come October ’17 when much more will be expected of them, or else.

In the meantime let’s get back to this new Leaf’s choice for captain. At present Toronto has four “A’s.” In my opinion, they should continue that format through the coming season. Realistically, I’m figuring if they don’t pick-up Jonathan Toews or Erik Karlsson in a deal in the off-season, (yeah, right,) there are two outstanding choices for captain in the fold right now. Mike Rielly, and/or Auston Matthews. The other Mike, my pal Mike, thinks it goes to Matthews, right now, no hesitation, no contest.

Having been around the NHL scene, watching captains come and go on many teams, I’ve often found the next captain selected was often not the slam dunk he seemed to be. It’s not always the team’s best player standing on skates. It’s not the oldest, nor the youngest, and there’s where we are with a captain-in-waiting for Toronto. That’s the obvious dilemma in dealing with a popularity contests pitted against cold, hard, necessity.

Past Leafs were a mixed bag. Example George Armstrong was an excellent “C.” Yet Dave Keon hated the assignment. Both were very private people, the perfect example of straightforward service, and unmistakable disregard.

See, the captain wears many off-ice hats, he’s the buffer between the front office, and the coaches when a wrong turn is made by one or the other parties. A captain is an ombudsman, often burdened with minor aggravations, disputes between players and coaching staff, someone to fill a required date at a hospital, the kinds of public relation requirements all teams assume once the season begins.

That availability of players is often disrupted with team priority requirements for injury rehab, changes in the lineups, reassignment to the minors, treatments, and family matters.

But by and large, the captain is the face of the on-ice product. Barring injury he must be an everyday player and a front-man, someone with the presence to settle internal disputes between teammates, management, media and coaches. For that he uses his standing within the team and his trust and perceived impartiality to settle disputes for the good of the team.

That area alone is the big responsibility.

Within those considerations, Rielly at age 23, has shown improvement in his standing and grasp of the NHL game. It’s improving at a rapid pace for a young defensive player. The difference between the two, is summed up in Rielly’s longer range of eon-the-job experience.

The good news may be having four A’s carry the load for the next two seasons and then put the right man in line for the job. It will allow the next captain of the Leafs to show his leadership and talents in that area. Keeping in mind these two excellent candidates to be the “players public face,” will ideally be a long term assignment.

What’s the rush? Looks like the talent will be there, on the job, when the time comes for the Leafs to “C.”




Matthews, Plus Gary and the Neon Knights

1187 for publication October 14, 2016

Ross Brewitt

I’ll take this opportunity to reply to recent feedback from four readers last week, all ID’ing themselves as Leaf fans, who wondered why I hadn’t made mention of 19-year-old Auston Mathews’ four-goal performance, in the Leaf’s October 12 opener in Ottawa, his first NHL game.

One cited Matthews’ “pre-eminence,” and the fact that he had “no equal,” which was another thing I had obviously missed.

I reminded them my column runs once a week, is slotted into the same amount of space each Friday, and sometimes one subject tops another. In addition I cautioned them that Matthews was a rookie and despite his advantages in size, dexterity, speed, and burgeoning skill, he could be expected to have great nights, against nights when he’d like a do-over.

In reverse order, I pointed out I hadn’t offered any undo spotlight or pressure on McDavid, Stamkos, Kane, Crosby, or Ovechkin. In my experience, it was better to tone down the rhetoric, either way, and let the seasonal numbers give us a better sense of where players’ rank. Always keeping in mind this was a learning season, and for rookies there’s so much to learn, injuries to endure, and all those well-schooled goaltenders to face.

In addition, last week it was baseball’s All-In tournament, the Jays were engaged in the fight of their lives in the AL Championship, whereas the Leafs, in this case Auston Mathews, were in game-one of a budding 82-game schedule.

One thing is abundantly clear. This young man isn’t one of those overly celebratory guys who will have considerable difficulty chalking up 10 goals in a season, and for the record I approved of his first NHL goal celebration. Exuberant, but close to the vest, sharing a hug with linemates, considerably less demonstrative than you’d expect from P.K. Subban or Patrick Kane.

With his Mom in the audience shedding tears, the second, third, and fourth goals arrived, and the response from Matthews gradually lessened. Though he was pummeled by his teammates, he remained completely under control, almost showing discomfort in the event.

After the accolades had played out, I noted it would be a big night for anyone, even a grizzled veteran. Yet this guy did everything quietly right, and kept things down to a mild roar. If there was any doubt about instinctive maturity, or immediately being stamped as the mildest hockey playing arrival in Toronto since Mats Sundin, it was quickly shelved. Rightfully so. The Leaf’s lost in the 3-on-3 OT.

Get used to it, young man, there’s a long and winding road leading to a coveted eighth slot in the standings. But for the long-suffering blue-&-white fans, it’s already made the rocky road more tolerable.

Speaking of rocky-yellow-brick roads at this time of year, where is Gary Bettman these days?

Is the absence of the NHL Commissioner a forerunner to the next CBA dog-fight. Over what? Everyone’s already rich. Third and fourth-line five-goal scorers can now command $2-mill-per-season.

Still, you have to admit things are running tickety-boo in his absence. Perhaps it’s too early to tell if scoring is up or down, but no inflating the annual “bigger nets” test balloon. A bit early for that kind of attention grabber.

Other items on the agenda were settled without rancor or acrimony, notably the Experiment,” and with that out of the road, other high priority items are falling into place.

Example? Wayne Gretzky is re-settled in Edmonton again. In mind, if not in person. Plus, the Las Vegas Neon Knights have dispatched legions of scouts across the NHL landscape in preparation of their initial Entry Draft, June 2017.

Lastly, under the heading of “New Business,” the fan-write in vote for January’s All Star Game will exclude any player playing in the AHL at the time of voting. Also, being 6’ 8”, or weighing over 250 pounds, crosses airline restrictions. Nor will John Scott be invited as a former MVP.

As for the Jays. See ya! April, 2017.