As a swirl of judgment, moralizing and, yes, a Scottsdale court proceeding engulfs the face of the franchise, the Maple Leafs were caught off-guard by Tuesday’s news that their star centreman was facing a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident four months ago in his hometown.
Matthews did not take questions from a media gathering more than double its usual size at the club’s practice facility Wednesday morning, while his lawyer prepped for a pre-trial conference in Arizona.
He did, however, thank reporters twice for coming and delivered a 38-second prepared statement.
“I regret any of my actions that would ever put a distraction on the team or distress on any individual. I take a lot of pride in preparing myself for the season and representing the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as I can,” Matthews said.
It reads like lawyer speak, an acknowledgment of an embarrassing incident without explicit admission of guilt.
A police report obtained by Sportsnet from the Scottsdale Police Department says the complaint was filed by a female security guard employed by a condo building where Matthews is a resident.
The complainant said she was sitting in her locked car around 2 a.m. on May 26 doing paperwork when a group of men, including someone she identified as Matthews, tried to jiggle the handle and enter the car.
According to the report, the complainant said she confronted the group, whom she believed to be intoxicated, and Matthews and his friends excused their actions for being something they thought would be funny.
The complainant “said she’d told Auston and his friends, ‘I am a female, I am a military vet with sever (sic) PTSD.’ She also told them it wasn’t funny and how could they think it would be funny to try and get in a female’s vehicle at 2 a.m. in the morning,” the police report reads.
Matthews allegedly dropped his pants and grabbed his butt cheeks before leaving the scene. She said Matthews kept his underwear on.
It’s important to note that none of the allegations have been proven in court and that Matthews was not arrested.
What’s not known is how members of the Maple Leafs brass, who were preparing to announce the next captain of the club in coming days, feel about being surprised by a legal charge —against one of their stars and ambassadors.
“You’re always disappointed. As the Toronto Maple Leafs, we really pride ourselves in doing things right, on the ice and off the ice and treating people. So, it’s an unfortunate situation,” said Babcock.
“I don’t think it’s gonna be [a distraction]. Anything that goes bad, what you do is you take it and you get better as an organization, and it makes you a better organization. We have a close family inside. We’re gonna look after Auston, and we’re gonna look after our actions.”
A similar tone was struck by alternate captains Tavares and Rielly, who dealt with a sudden backlash himself last season when he was accused of hollering a gay slur during game action. (The NHL investigated that incident and ruled that Rielly did not use a slur.)
“Yeah, it’s tough,” Rielly said. “He’s taking it very seriously. We understand these issues are serious, and it’s not something that we take lightly. So, that’s how he’s approaching it. He understands the situation, and as teammates we are going to support him.”
Tavares acknowledged there is “absolutely” a lesson to be learned here about pro athlete privilege, but both he and Babcock argued that it would not affect Matthews’ ability to lead or perform.
“How we know Auston, how we see him carry himself, how he treats people every day,” Tavares said, “and his involvement in the community, we think very highly of him.
“It’s easy to pass judgement and make assumptions, but I think you just let the process carry out.”
When the Maple Leafs take the ice Wednesday night against the Canadiens for their first pre-season game dressing an NHL-calibre roster, Tavares and Rielly will wear a letter on their sweaters as they did last season.
One additional Maple Leaf will also get an A: Jake Muzzin.