(And don't worry, eyebeleaf -- even I wouldn't suggest we strip Sundin of his 'C' if he re-signs1.)
The Leafs have recently made a habit of bringing their old captains back to the fold: Wendel twice, and Dougie once. It says here that they should do it again.
They should award this year's captaincy to the same player who had it from 1986-89.
Back then, the Leafs didn't have any especially good candidates for the captain's job. The team wasn't very good, their few decent players were too young to carry a leadership role, and they didn't have much in the way of veteran presence. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.
Faced with that scenario, and for perhaps the only time during the Ballard years, the Leafs did the right thing. They played without a captain for three years.
They should do it again. The current Leafs roster doesn't have a single player who deserves to wear the "C". And since there's no rule that says you need to have a captain, and no real disadvantage to going without one, the Leafs should declare the captaincy vacant for at least one season.
Let's look at the candidates on the current roster:
An established veteran like Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina or Nik Antropov - Kaberle is a decent option, and would be my choice if I had to choose somebody. He's the longest serving Leaf, he's probably the best player on the team, and he's kept his nose clean. But from all accounts he's not much of a dressing room presence, preferring to stand aside and let others take on leadership duties. Could he grow into a more vocal leadership role? Sure. And if he does, he should be the next captain -- sometime in the next few years.
Kubina has been linked to the captaincy this week, and Antropov has been mentioned in various spots. But Antropov has essentially had one good season as a Leaf, and Kubina has arguably had one good month. And either one could become trade bait at this year's deadline, if not sooner. A captain should be somebody a team is committed to in the long term. I'm not sure either of these guys are in that category.
Besides, it's been well-established that the Leafs dressing room became a country club over the past few years. Players weren't held accountable, the same lazy errors happened over and over again, and nobody ever seemed all that bothered by any of it. Do any of the veterans who were part of last year's leadership core really deserve another shot so soon after that disaster?
A veteran newcomer like Jamal Mayers. No way. You don't hand your captaincy over to a new guy unless they're among the great leaders in the game. And with apologies to Mayers, who seems like a solid guy on and off the ice, he's not exactly Mark Messier.
One of the kids, like Alex Steen or Matt Stajan - There's certainly plenty of precedent for handing a captaincy over to a youngster. But that's an honor typically reserved for franchise players like Yzerman or Crosby who the team is looking to build around for the next decade. There's nobody on the Leafs roster who even comes close to that level of talent or potential.
Stajan and Steen may have some leadership skills, and either could be a captain in the league someday. But again, why rush it, especially in a pressure-packed market like Toronto? After all, the last time the Leafs let an untested youngster take over an important role, it didn't work out so well.
All of the above: rotate the captaincy - This idea seems to be picking up steam lately, including being raised as a possibility by Fletcher. It may be the worst option of all.
I don't want to get all traditional on you, but we're talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs here, not the Minnesota Wild. The captaincy of an Original Six team, even one wallowing in last place, should mean something. The Leafs have had six captains in the past 30 years. Do they really want to add six more in one season?
So leave the "C" on the sidelines for 2008-09. Use four alternate captains. See who steps up to fill the leadership void, and what kind of impact they can have. If somebody emerges as the team's undisputed leader, then and only then do you hand them the captaincy.
If it happens in time for next season, great. If not, better to go without for a few years than to force the role onto somebody who doesn't deserve it.
1But if he has three bad games in a row, ship him to the Marlies.