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Maple Leafs Watch: Looking for leadership

The Mats Sundin saga will heat up in the next few weeks as the former captain and marquee star of the Toronto Maple Leafs ultimately decides whether to return to hockey or retire. If he does come back to, he has to decide where he wants to play.

The myriad of possibilities available to him has already been combed over ad nauseum in the Toronto media. So to make a long story short, if he just wants to play a bit more, he could re-join the Leafs. More likely, however, his reason to return is a shot at the Stanley Cup, which narrows the list down considerably and excludes Toronto. Ironically, Ottawa, one of the teams thought to be pursuing Sundin over the summer, is not a Cup contender (or even a playoff team) right now and can be discounted, save some sort of Bytown miracle.

But this is a Leafs column, so let’s get back to that plucky bunch wearing the Blue and White, the group that sends fan spirit soaring one night and crashing the next.

Perhaps part of the schizophrenia has to do with the lack of a team captain right now. In an interesting and slightly unsettling trend, a host of NHL teams no longer have a traditional captain, either foregoing the ‘C’ altogether or giving it to a different player each month, the latter being an utterly pointless and redundant exercise in my opinion.

The Leafs certainly have candidates, but some players stick out in my mind.

Right now, Matt Stajan is looking like a good option. Not only has he embraced the spirit of Ron Wilson’s coaching, which has put the now first-line center on pace for his best offensive season ever, but the pivot is also a smart cookie off the ice. Stajan was a member of the NHL Players’ Association constitution committee and was recently credited by union lawyer Ian Penny as a key to the re-launch of the NHLPA under new boss Paul Kelly.

Granted, Stajan is still a young man in the NHL. He will turn 25 in a month, but that has not been a deterrent for teams such as Chicago or Los Angeles, who gave the ‘C’ to 20-year-old Jonathan Toews and 24-year-old Dustin Brown, respectively.

Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, two savvy veterans and the sturdiest Leafs going into this campaign, seemed to be the obvious choices but that has not come to pass. Perhaps neither felt comfortable; perhaps neither was asked.

Kaberle has always been a quiet personality and isn’t having his best season so far, but Kubina seems like a great choice on certain nights. At his best, the imposing defenseman is fiercely competitive and offensively dangerous with the puck – the same qualities Sundin brought on his best nights. Other games, he’s a ghost. It’s not to say he’s playing poorly, but the presence is lacking. If Kubina could work on that consistency – and assuming he is going to stay in Toronto for a couple years – he would make an admirable captain in Toronto, as would Stajan.

This article also appears in the Toronto Metro newspaper.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.

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