Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews is entering his fourth season, and with the pressure mounting to lead his team to a Stanley Cup in 2019-20, there’s plenty on his mind.
Matthews spoke with The Athletic’s Craig Morgan to discuss his teammate and good friend Mitch Marner’s ongoing contract standoff, and the possibility of becoming Toronto’s captain, a role that is currently vacant.
For the time being, Matthews is deferring all counsel for Marner to William Nylander and general manager Kyle Dubas.
“If he wants advice, Willie (Nylander) is probably a good guy to talk to because he went through it last season (signed in December). I’m sure they have probably chatted about their similar situations. I signed halfway through the season last year, so it’s different. I’m not really too worried about it. I don’t know what’s going to happen because I’m not in those conversations but I’m sure (Dubas) and his whole team will figure that whole thing out. They find a way to work themselves out. They always do,” Matthews said.
“Obviously, I hope for the best. He’s a big part of the team. You hope to have him there as soon as possible. He’s an amazing player, an amazing teammate and a good friend, but it’s really none of my business. When it gets done, you just hope it gets done as smooth as possible and then you just go from there.”
Marner has led the team in scoring the past two seasons, while Matthews has continued to shine as one of the NHL’s best young talents, posting 73 points in 68 games in 2018-19.
Matthews has been considered a prime candidate to become Toronto’s next captain, with Morgan Rielly and John Tavares in serious contention as well. When the Maple Leafs signed Tavares to a seven-year, $77-million contract last summer, some believed it would force the organization to show their hand, and give the ‘C’ to either Matthews, or the former New York Islanders standout.
Tavares was the long-standing captain of the Islanders before joining the Leafs in free agency, but Matthews doesn’t believe there would be any hard feelings regardless of who gets named captain.
“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.”
“I don’t think it would be awkward. 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,” Matthews added.
If and when the Maple Leafs make their decision, the next captain of the team will now have the added weight of trying to lead this team past the first round of the playoffs and well into the summer, as a young, talented core has graduated into a genuine contender. With that comes the weight of heightened expectations.
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