Auston Matthews’ lapse in judgement is a learning experience

2016 first-overall pick Auston Matthews answers questions in a scrum earlier this month in Toronto. (Photo: Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Kyle Dubas learned the news about Auston Matthews the same way that you did. He was scrolling through Twitter.

This instance is one of the most serious issues that Dubas has dealt with so far as general manager of the Leafs. In March, Morgan Rielly was accused of using a homophobic slur on the ice. However, it was ultimately ruled that Rielly didn’t utter the slur, and the situation was handled very well by Dubas and the Leafs.

The Matthews situation is much more challenging to deal with, as there’s no denying it. The 22 year old made multiple mistakes this past summer. He faces a charge of disorderly conduct and disruptive behavior stemming from an incident on May 26. The incident allegedly occurred outside Matthews’ condominium in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Matthews spends a majority of his offseason.

As a prominent hockey figure playing in the sport’s biggest market, Matthews represents the Leafs’ brand, fair or not. This issue stems well beyond hockey, however. Matthews and a group of friends thought it would be funny to mess with a female security guard. As per the report, she was frightened. Matthews then pulled down his pants and grabbed his buttocks before walking inside with his pants still around his ankles, according to the report.

Some will dismiss this as a group of friends just “having fun”. Others will utter the cliche “boys will be boys”. This is dismissive discourse promoted by people who want to forgive Matthews because of his status. It’s not funny to scare anybody while they’re alone at two in the morning. It’s not funny when a group of men scare a lone female either. He should also know that he’s a prominent sports figure, which means he’s held to a higher standard. This is something that Matthews has hopefully learned from this experience.

By all accounts, Auston Matthews is not a bad person. He’s a young man who made a bad mistake. Luckily, nobody was physically harmed in the incident. This is a lapse in judgement that will teach him about the importance of how he carries himself in public.

That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two is how he dealt with this. The Maple Leafs weren’t informed of this incident, and were completely blindsided when news broke Tuesday of the charges.

When asked about what bothers him more, the act or the lack of communication, Dubas answered honestly.

“I don’t think I have them in a power ranking. Equally, probably. Number one, that there was a situation. Number two, the way in which we found out. Both are disappointing and will be addressed and we’ll roll from there.”

Head coach Mike Babcock found out in a similar fashion. From a PR standpoint, this is ugly. If Matthews had informed the Leafs directly after he found out he’d be in trouble, they could have dealt with it much better. Instead, it’s been a media firestorm that nobody in the Leafs organization was prepared for.

Matthews addressed his failure to alert the team in a scrum on Wednesday.

“That was an error in judgement, to be honest with you,” the 2016 first-overall draft pick said. “When we received the complaint, got with the legal [representative], try to map out a plan on how to handle the situation, and that’s just an error in judgement on my part” (via CBC).

What happens next?

This situation will cool off once the season begins. The focus will be back on hockey and not on the off-ice problems. Opening night can’t come quickly enough for Matthews and the Leafs. Matthews’ court date is set for October 22 in Scottsdale. After that, the whole situation will be in the past.

As for the Leafs’ captaincy, that debate should not be the focal point of this incident. However, the Leafs will be announcing the 19th captain in franchise history very soon. Many thought that Matthews was the favourite to end up wearing the C. After this series of events involving him, the Leafs would have to hold off naming a captain if he indeed was the pick.

Over the last couple of days, reports have emerged suggesting the Leafs haven’t changed their stance on naming a captain. John Tavares is the favourite to get the C, according to Elliotte Friedman and Darren Dreger, among others.

No matter who ends up donning the C, it shouldn’t be a talking point in this story. Matthews made multiple mistakes this summer that he’ll learn from. If he’s not named captain, those blunders could certainly explain why.

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