2019 is supposed to be the year of Auston Matthews. The ink is still fresh on his massive five-year, $58.17 million dollar deal, giving him the third-highest cap hit in the league. He’s the cover athlete on the new version of the NHL video game. And with his regular line-mate William Nylander back for the entire season, he looks poised for a great year.
Just after NHL training camps opened, the secret was apparently out; Auston Matthews was going to be the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs posted a behind-the-scenes video of their promotional photo-shoot, as the “C” was poorly removed from the jersey of Matthews leaving an outline. However, things took a sharp turn when news broke that Auston was facing a disorderly conduct charge. The kicker – Matthews kept this from the Maple Leafs management and coaching staff. GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock both expressed their disappointment, and team president Brendan Shanahan liked the tweet of the police report (yikes).
We all know the story; Matthews has a lot of forces working against him here, allegedly disturbing a female military vet with PTSD. Such actions aren’t those of a mature man. Unquestionably, this is a horrible look for the young Leafs star, who hasn’t denied the incident. Now the question is, will this affect Matthews’ chances of being named captain? Brian Burke made some interesting comments on Vancouver radio this week when he said that the team had already made the decision last weekend to make John Tavares the man. But was this leaked out by Leafs management in order to make things look like this was all part of the plan IF Tavares is named captain?
This could be an easy exit strategy for MLSE to take the captaincy from Matthews and give it to Tavares. On paper, the former Islander is the most logical choice as captain. He has the most direct leadership experience on the team, having had the role with the New York Islanders for five seasons. The relevance of having a captain is a hot topic in the hockey world these days, with the importance being debated almost daily. The captaincy is really more of a formality in most cases, with the only important duty being that one that has to deal with the media every single day. However, the Leafs aren’t your “every day” hockey team and the role of captain has been vacant for over three years since Dion Phaneuf was traded to Ottawa. Having this honour slip right through his fingers has to be a massive blow to Matthews’ ego.
When Auston signed his contract back in February, much of the speculation was about how he was going to leave Toronto the first chance he got since management only bought one year of his available unrestricted free agent seasons. I suspect that Matthews will still be around since the Leafs have deep pockets and can hand out those hefty bonuses. If Matthews’ ego is really hurt, he will charge the team a surplus for staying. and, who knows – maybe this is all for nothing and he just wants to play with his buddy Mitch Marner?
The biggest factor of Matthews re-signing is the individual success that he’ll have compared to or contrasted with the rest of the team. For example, should the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, especially multiple times (a man can dream!), and Auston accumulates some significant personal accolades, the chances are high that he’ll be sticking around for his third contract in the league. However, if Matthews earns himself a Hart Trophy, a couple Richard trophies and a few post season all-star team honours, while the team is still looking for their first championship since 1967, the situation could turn ugly…fast.
The Maple Leafs season kicks off Wednesday and will inevitably be an interesting one for Matthews, especially. Fans of the team will obviously hope that this extra-curricular incident lights a fire under Matthews’ ass and gets him focused on growing into a better man and a superior hockey player. Knowing the Leafs, the 5-years he has left on his deal are going to be an absolute roller coaster ride. And if he truly is ready to move on, we should know sooner rather than later.