Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Auston Matthews, Mike Babcock Deny Rift as Maple Leafs Clean out Their Lockers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Auston Matthews, Mike Babcock Deny Rift as Maple Leafs Clean out Their Lockers

Article excerpt

Maple Leafs' Matthews, Babcock deny rift


TORONTO - Mike Babcock was at his daughter's graduation when he received a text message from a friend about reports of a strained relationship with star centre Auston Matthews.

"I'll find out in the morning," the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs replied. "I'll meet him. I'll ask him in the morning."

As the Leafs cleaned out their lockers Friday in the wake of a seven-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, Babcock and Matthews both addressed speculation the coach had "lost" his player during the series.

"I said, 'What's going on?'" Babcock told reporters of his conversation with Matthews. "It's interesting in Toronto, you (media) do such a good job. You're everywhere. You're under the bench, you're in the crack in the door, you're in the car, you're in the parking lot. You're everywhere, and any time anybody does anything there's a big story.

"I asked him flat-out, 'Do we have any (issues)?' He was sitting right there. We don't seem to."

Matthews, who had just a goal and an assist against Boston, said talk of friction was also news to him.

"I don't know what that's all about," he said. "Our relationship's fine. Obviously you guys can speculate all you want, but I think it's pointless.

"Stuff happens, people speculate. I can tell you right now it's not the case."

The 20-year-old scored 34 times in regular season despite missing 20 games due to injury, but admitted to being frustrated in the Bruins series following a Game 7 where Toronto blew a 4-3 lead in the third period before losing 7-4.

"Auston's a young man trying to be the best player in the world," Babcock said Friday. "The hardest part in life is when you're disappointed and you thought you maybe could have done more. I know that from me as a coach ... it makes you sick, almost.

"He's a good young man. We're lucky to have him. I'm lucky to get to coach him, and we continue to grow our product here with him leading the way."

That growth saw the Leafs set franchise records for points (105) and wins (49) in the regular season, but unlike the 2016-17 campaign where they were just happy to make the playoffs before losing in six games to Washington after bottoming out the previous year, Toronto expected a lot more this spring.

"It rips the heart out of your chest," Babcock said. "You're set up, you're right there, you're ahead, you've got it going good.

"It just goes to show you how fragile things are at times."

Despite having their season end at the same stage, the Leafs will see a number of positives as they head towards the summer. …

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