There's growing speculation the Toronto Maple Leafs will name a captain for the first time since Dion Phaneuf's departure in 2016. Auston Matthews, the face of the franchise, is one of a handful of logical candidates to don the "C," and he understands its importance.
"The captaincy in hockey, in general, is a huge honor, but especially in Toronto," Matthews told The Athletic's Craig Morgan. "You see the names of the guys that have come before you. We have all the captains' banners lined up for us in our practice rink. You know the names, what they brought to the team, their competitiveness, what they did throughout the community, so it’s a bit of a bigger honor, in my opinion, to bestow that in Toronto.
"Whether it's me or it's someone else, it comes with a lot of responsibility, but whether I get it or not, I feel comfortable regardless. We've got a lot of good candidates, guys that have been in the league for a while, guys that have been captains before like John Tavares, and guys that have worn letters for quite some time."
Matthews, Tavares, and Morgan Rielly are generally considered to be in the running. Tavares was the captain of the New York Islanders before signing a seven-year deal with his hometown team in the summer of 2018. Rielly is the longest-serving Leaf and has worn an "A" as an alternate captain for the past few seasons.
Asked if he thought it might be odd for Tavares to be passed over for the honor - given he's the elder statesman of the group and has a been a captain before - Matthews dismissed the theory.
"I don't think it would be awkward," he said. "Everybody has the same goal in mind. Everybody wants to contribute in their own way and do what's best for the team. When somebody is ready, (GM) Kyle (Dubas) and the staff will make a good choice. No matter who it is, you move forward, do your thing and put in the work."
Faced with similar questions about the captaincy prior to the start of last season, Matthews said he's never worn the "C" in his life; since he consistently played a level or two higher than his own age group growing up, he was always one of the youngest players on his team.