TORONTO — Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas learned of the headline-grabbing allegation against Auston Matthews the same way many fans did — on Twitter.
Dubas addressed reporters following Toronto’s 3-0 pre-season victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday and said no one in the organization had any indication the team’s star centre was facing a charge of disorderly conduct and disruptive behaviour stemming from an incident four months ago in Scottsdale, Ariz., until the news broke.
"I found out on Twitter (on Tuesday) and called Auston," said Dubas, before describing that conversation: "Very honest about it. There was no ducking, there was no denying anything. He was very honest with me about what had happened.
"I would have liked to know before, but I’m happy in the moment when he could have ducked away or deferred that he was honest with me."
Matthews, who scored his fourth goal of the pre-season, delivered a brief statement Wednesday morning, but didn’t take any questions from a larger-than-usual throng of cameras and microphones present ahead of an exhibition tilt.
The 22-year-old centre answered questions after the game and didn’t make any excuses for keeping his legal trouble from the team.
"That was an error in judgement, to be honest with you," Matthews 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."
Matthews said in his statement earlier Wednesday that he regrets "any of my actions that would ever put a distraction on the team or distress any individual."
"We’re obviously disappointed, as Auston said this morning, that it’s been a distraction and for what it’s caused not only to the team, but everyone who’s involved," Dubas said. "The way that you look at it is No. 1 we have to find out what’s happened, what’s going on, and then subsequently we have to use it as an opportunity to continue to educate our whole organization — every player, every staff member — about the way we expect our organization to conduct its business here at the rink every day, in the weight room, in the community and how they interact with every citizen that they come into contact with because when they are doing so, they’re representing the Toronto Maple Leafs."
Any controversy involving the Leafs is big news in Toronto — Matthews made the front page of the local daily newspapers Wednesday — and the added detail that the team’s best player is facing a charge days before many observers expected him to be named captain has sparked even more intrigue.
Dubas said he’s equally bothered by the alleged incident, and that he was left in the dark.
"Both are disappointing and will be addressed, and we’ll roll from there," said the GM. "You don’t like ever for there to be any situations, and then when (there are), I think you want to know about them as soon as possible."
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said before the game he was disappointed to hear the news.
"As the Toronto Maple Leafs, we really pride ourselves on doing things right — on the ice, off the ice — in treating people," he said. "It’s an unfortunate situation."
Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said the team will rally around Matthews.
"It’s tough," he said. "He’s taking it very seriously. We understand that these issues are serious and it’s not something that we take lightly."
A pre-trial conference was held in Arizona on Wednesday. The City of Scottsdale’s website lists the next court date as Oct. 22.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined a request via email for comment when asked about the allegation. The player’s agent and Phoenix-based lawyer didn’t respond to separate requests for comment.
A police report obtained from the Scottsdale Police Department details the complaint filed by a female security guard employed by a local condo building where she said Matthews is a resident. She said she was sitting in her locked car when a group of men, including Matthews, allegedly tried to get inside on May 26.
She said she confronted the group, who she believed to be intoxicated, and during that interaction Matthews withdrew from the conversation and dropped his pants and grabbed his buttocks.
The security guard said Matthews, then 21 years old, kept his underwear on.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and Matthews was not arrested.
"I don’t think it will negatively impact the relationship with Auston (and the team)," Dubas said. "I think with everything that happens where someone doesn’t meet the level of expectation that you have for them or for themselves, it’s an opportunity for them to learn and to grow."
Matthews has been considered one of the leading candidates to be named Leafs’ captain, a role that’s been vacant since Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators in February 2016.
Dubas declined to say what if any impact the situation will have on the captaincy question.
Veteran centre John Tavares and defencemen Rielly are also possibilities for the job — it’s anyone’s guess what the allegation means for Matthews’ case to wear the ‘C’ — and it was hard not to notice the captain-like poise both showed Wednesday morning under difficult circumstances.
"It’s easy to cast judgement and want to make assumptions, but I think you just let the process carry out," Tavares said. "We have belief in (Matthews) as a player and what he brings to our locker room."
"He’s been a leader since Day 1 (when) he walked in this room," Rielly said. "We’re going to support him."