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Auston Matthews shows you how to be professional in your workplace beefs

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When the Zoom call gets real, it helps to be on with Morgan Rielly, too.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Last night the Maple Leafs lost their opening game to the Columbus Blue Jackets. No one likes to lose, and that’s the time when emotions can run a little high. Now we cut to Steve Simmons asking Auston Matthews a question about the game:

(Thanks to MLHS for always having these things covered.)

Watch the clip, and you see that Matthews just says what he thinks here with no drama or emotionalism. He calls the story where Simmons correctly, and with confirmation from multiple sources, revealed Matthews had COVID-19 in Arizona “a bit unethical to be honest”. Matthews then moves on immediately to answer Simmons question thoughtfully and completely.

Normally, as some reporters have said, this sort of beef gets sorted out in the locker room in private. And normally, that’s how it should happen. The day Phil Kessel publicly called out criticism of his teammates was so remarkable because it was rare.

The world isn’t actually made better by anyone stoking the instant blame the media narratives that used to seem so harmless from sports fans, so it’s good that it only needs to happen rarely.

Not everyone agrees that Simmons should have kept the information he uncovered to himself. In fact, very few reporters do. But Simmons is being judged by Leafs fans on his past behaviour, and many have said it doesn’t matter if what he says is true, all that matters is that they hate him. As a person. For things he said.

Auston Matthews gave up whatever chance there was he would be named captain of the Maple Leafs when he harassed a security guard, was criminally charged and then just never told the team. That’s not facing up to things and handling it like someone with leadership skills. That’s deplorable behaviour from the point he arrived at his home really drunk to the day he tried very hard to make the apology the Maple Leafs wrote for him sound sincere.

The aftermath of that was that Arizona provides an out for people to settle minor charges, and the Maple Leafs made John Tavares the captain. They gave Matthews an A he has to share with Mitch Marner and the task of showing he’d matured.

Watch that clip of Matthews again with the sound off, and just wait for Morgan Rielly to listen, go blank, and then relax when it all ended up exactly right. Matthews said how he feels directly and with no big drama, and then he answered the question.

Which is how you have to handle your workplace beefs when your workplace is a public Zoom call. But Rielly, who is only 25, has always seemed a natural at leadership and captainly demeanour. Matthews never has, and not just because of his behaviour last summer. But starting with his confirmation of his COVID-19 status, and then this moment, I have hope for him that the Leafs plan of the part-time A was a good one, that he has matured. The bar you have to clear in professional sports to be called surprisingly adult is pretty low. Rielly and Tavares leap over it with miles of clearance, and maybe now Matthews can figure out how to hop over it.

Now as to Simmons... well he’s on Twitter beefing with James Mirtle (who related the above incident in a very short tweet), and he’s coming off like the kind of guy who thinks beefing on Twitter with people is what he gets out of bed in the morning for.

As for me, I think Simmons was not at all unethical to report properly sourced information, and the public interest in it is clear. But Matthews handled this perfectly in a situation where it was doubly hard to do, and he is absolutely entitled to his opinion. Does this somehow make up for what he did last summer? No, of course not, but things can’t be undone. All we can ask is that he become a better man. It seems like he’s doing that.

And after a full two days of everyone, including the reporters he’s obnoxious to, praising John Tortorella for being rude and unprofessional in his Zoom calls, it’s nice to see someone model confrontation that isn’t about some show of power. If you want Tortorella to answer your questions, you have to pander to him and call him by his nickname and laugh at his power play to slap people down, and even then you might come away with nothing. If you want an answer from Matthews, he’ll give it to you. Simple as that.

Hockey fans are forever demanding the NHL get some “personality” which to me often reads like they want rude and obnoxious, popcorn-popping drama. But that’s exactly what leads to hazy stories about hot dogs, very short tweets, and chortling over “Torts”. Considering that a not insignificant number of people think Mike Babcock should never coach again because he behaved like a power-tripping martinet at times, it’s hard not to think everyone should be careful what they wish for on this personality issue.

I’ll take Mo, and the days on which Auston seems like Mo, every time.