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Morgan Rielly acting as de facto Leafs captain

Morgan Rielly acting as de facto Leafs captain
Sports
The Maple Leafs, of course, do not have a captain. There are those out there who might argue that not only do the Leafs not need one, but no NHL team needs one. An anachromism. A relic. A cute little toy for the media to play with.

But no team is more regimented to tradition, to history and its own rules than Lou Lamoriello’s Maple Leafs. No beards. Rookies don’t talk on TV between periods. Suit and jacket, with tie done up all the way.

And there’s one more time-honoured tradition: After a loss, the captain always speaks. Talking after wins is fun. Talking after losses is hard. The captain talks to deflect the blame. To protect his teammates. To take one for the team.

Who was front and centre after the Leafs’ first loss of the season?

“We’ll start with Mo,” came the words from the team’s PR staff when the doors opened for league-mandated media time.

It wasn’t even a topic of debate.

Rielly has developed into a fine presence in front of microphones and cameras. Not afraid to give and take when appropriate, to call a questioner out on a weird or poorly phrased query. Not afraid to show a bit of personality, a bit of a sense of humour, which is all too rare these days. He speaks his mind, in an honest, thoughtful fashion.

There was one misstep, much earlier in his career, when he spoke of the team playing like “girls.” At the time, he owned up to the sexist nature of it, and moved the story along, never seemingly holding a grudge at the reporters who “outed” the comment.

Learning and growing. Into a role model. Into a leader.

This is not to suggest that Rielly will be the next captain, a position vacant since Dion Phaneuf left town.

But it is to suggest there is more at play than simply waiting for Auston Matthews to get a few more games, or seasons, under his belt.

For one thing, Lamoriello is probably loathe to hand a C to a player before he signs his next contract. No point giving more leverage to the other side.

For another, Matthews gets enough of a media deluge on a day-to-day basis, and is understandably a big draw whenever American media is around. Perhaps the team might feel Matthews doesn’t need the extra camera time of speaking after losses.

Matthews comments are far more guarded than Rielly’s. That’s another hockey tradition by the way, of the youngsters on the team deferring to veterans.

There are other players who wear the A. Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Maybe one of them will speak first after the Leafs next loss.
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