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Our Leafs: where will the leadership come from?

As fans everywhere understand, there are many different types of “leaders” in sports—and many different ways to lead.

Whether it’s the “grab your teammates by the throat” Messier thing, the quieter Yzerman/Lidstrom lead by example approach in Detroit, or the Doug Gilmour-type inspirational leadership in Toronto of the early ‘90s, it’s all a huge part of building successful teams.

Sometimes a team will have one unequivocal leader, the guy who everyone else turns to, on and off the ice, to listen to and to follow.  Other times a team will have a number of individuals who bring different qualities and as a small group, they play the role of collective mentor, role model and leader.

Part of assessing any particular team’s potential heading into a given season is, of course, not just how talented they are at various key positions, or how much veteran savvy or playoff experience they have, but  determining: do they have what I was just talking about?  That is,  a player, or players, who are legitimate leaders, someone who will lead the club b not only in good times but through the inevitable  difficult  times as well.

Right now, when I look at the make-up of the Maple Leaf hockey club, I’m not one hundred per cent certain that I see a leader, a true, bona fide leader.  To lead, you not only need certain attributes, but you have to have the personality, and be the kind of person, that others will actually choose to follow.  Do the Leafs have that?

Dion Phaneuf is their captain, so announced amidst the usual organizational ballyhoo last summer.  He was hardly captain material, it would seem, in Calgary, where various reports continue to suggest (including from sources as credible as former coach Mike Keenan) that Phaneuf was perhaps not the right fit in Calgary, for whatever reason.

But in the Burke regime, he was the one, only and obvious choice to take on the captain’s “C” worn for many years earlier by the departed Mats Sundin—not to mention guys named Clark, Gilmour, Sittler, Keon, Armstrong, Kennedy and a few others along the way.

I’m not looking for a long debate, but for me, the jury is still very much out as to whether Dion is a true leader, or just, well, loud.  On the ice, the guy can play and if he is healthy (and there’s no reason to suspect he won’t be) he should be the player we saw toward the end of last season, which isn’t bad.

But again, in terms of his being the kind of guy who will lead you through tough times and inspire others to their best effort when it matters most, we haven’t been able, in fairness, to see that—yet.


Komisarek has leadership qualities, I sense, but his play has been so sporadic that he can’t really fully assume that role.  Schenn is heading in the right direction, and may in fact be the natural successor, if Phaneuf ever finds his way out of town.  The rest of the blueline is pretty young, or hasn’t been around for any period of time.

Up front, the team’s best player is Kessel.  But I don’t see Phil taking on the mantle of leadership.  I may be dreadfully wrong, but he seems to be what we have seen so far—a flashy player with wonderful offensive skills, a guy who can fly, and when he is on a roll, can score a lot of goals.

But he is not a grinder, not a vocal leader, seems to actually dislike the spotlight and appears uncomfortable with the media. 

He may be a really nice, shy, guy, but I can’t imagine he will be wearing a letter anytime soon.

Who else is a leader on this team?  Grabbo just earned his spurs, really, as last year went along.  He is still learning English, not that language precludes you from being a guy that others will follow.

Otherwise, Lupul may have some of those leadership attributes, and certainly brings experience to the club.  But a real team leader? I don't know.

What's my point in all this?

Teams need either one really strong leader to follow, or a group of guys who take on that responsibility because it’s just in them to lead the way.  Wearing a letter in and of itself is hardly enough.

I don’t see this team as one with leaders right now.  I may be wrong.  But I just don’t see it.

So while the roster has been turned over and then some over the past three seasons, I’m not sure we’re a whole lot better in one department that really matters.

In any event, I guess we'll find out over the next few months if the Leafs do indeed have the leaders they will need to get where they want to go.


  1. I think Armstrong is a great leader on the team. He's great with the media and seems like a great guy in general. Plus he's a hard working grinder.

  2. Agree that Armstrong has leadership qualities, and MacArthur definitely seems like a guy who'll be wearing an A sooner than later.

    As for Dion, I'm willing to let this year play out as far as his captainitude, because I think generally, he's still maturing as a dude, and we just need to be patient.