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The story that caused the most buzz following the Toronto Maple Leafs first round exit last month was the friction between Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews.
The Leafs head coach admitted that his star player was unhappy during Game 7 in Boston, when the club allowed four third period goals to lose the series.
As has been his tradition, Babcock travelled across the Atlantic for the World Championships, but this time went by way of Arizona and met with Matthews to sit clear the air.
“(Matthews) wants to be better, I want him to be better, I want our team to be better, he wants to be playing right now and that’s what we’re working towards.” Babcock said to TSN’s Darren Dreger in Denmark
on Monday. “He wants to be the best two-way player in the game and we are going to work as hard are we can.”
Matthews had a frustrating post-season, with just two points in seven games. The 20-year-old led all Toronto forwards in average ice time with over 18 minutes per game, but faced Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy on most shifts and reportedly wanted to shoulder the burden of greater responsibilities with the series on the line.
“It’s not going to be rosy every day. It never is. Anybody who perceives (that things are going good every day) in the National Hockey League, it’s not like that. It’s a competitive atmosphere. Babcock said. “That’s why the guys love it, that’s why they’re in it. The best players want to be pushed.”
With the former Calder Trophy winner possibly signing a eight-year contract extension this summer and being in line to being named team captain before next season, the Leafs head coach recognized that it was important to not let sleeping dogs lie and make sure that he and Matthews were on the same page, but also indicated that he will be the boss and operating the club his way.
“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.”
One particular aspect that was brought up over the last two seasons has been Matthews playing with winger Mitch Marner. At locker cleanout last month, Matthews indicated that he would like to have Marner on his line.
Marner led the club in scoring during the regular season and playoffs, but unlike the Bruins stacking top forwards Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on one line, Babcock philosophically does not think putting his two best players together is a winning formula.
What this means for the future, is that for the Leafs to reach their ultimate goal, it will take Matthews, Marner and a number of others to improve and be the best they can be, but in the direction that the head coach wants them to go.
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