Following the Toronto Maple Leafs’ devastating Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins in their first round playoff series, it was clear that superstar forward Auston Matthews was not happy. The Leafs surrendered four third period goals to lose the series and Matthews, arguably the team’s best offensive player, was stapled to the bench by head coach Mike Babcock for much of the period.
Shortly after being dismissed for the offseason, Babcock and Matthews both met in Matthews’ native Arizona for a much publicized attempt to clear the air. Both Babcock and Matthews have gone to great lengths to downplay the reported “rift” between themselves and, until now, neither side has admitted to any potential personality issues.
But earlier this week while traveling in Denmark to take in the 2018 IIHF World Hockey Championships, Babcock finally opened up to TSN’s Darren Dreger and shared the details of his relationship with Matthews. “It’s not going to be rosy every day. It never is,” said Babcock. “Anybody who perceives that in the National Hockey League, it’s not like that. It’s a competitive atmosphere. That’s why the guys love it, that’s why they’re in it. The best players want to be pushed.”
So why the need to visit with Matthews now? Why push him now so early in the offseason? While it’s not unusual for a coach to visit with his star player during the offseason, the timing of Bibcock’s visit was surprising to a lot of fans and media. Did Babcock cross a line?
“I think there is a real fine line, and not crossing it and when you do cross it, I think it is important to have built a good enough relationship that the guy can say ‘woah’.” Babcock said. “There’s a big difference between being 28 and totally established and being 20. And we got a lot of young people on our team and so that guidance is going to continue to happen.”
What’s encouraging to hear is that Babcock is being proactive in his approach. Whether or not the reported rift between Babcock and Matthews is true or not, it’s refreshing to see an NHL head coach get ahead of a potential problem and not bury his head in the sand.