TORONTO — The level of disappointment in the room, the air of uncertainty as it pertains to the future, the tone of Auston Matthews’ exit interview.
More than a few things changed since the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs cleaned out their stalls and prepared to disband for another summer.
One of several hot-button topics touched at the annual end-of-season review Friday at Air Canada Centre — with the sting of their first-round defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins still obviously present — was the suggestion that Mike Babcock “lost” Matthews at some point in the series, and that there was the makings of a rift between head coach and superstar.
Babcock unplugged immediately after the loss to attend his daughter’s graduation, but did eventually receive word of Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos’ suggestion. And it momentarily altered the feel of his end-of-season assembly with Matthews.
Instead of the typical encouragement, instruction and constructive criticism, Babcock led with a direct question.
“I asked him flat out,” Babcock told reporters.
So what did he take from the response?
“We don’t seem to.”
What was, at least, somewhat noteworthy about Babcock’s long-winded response to the suggestion that he and Matthews were at odds was that he didn’t deliver the direct answer that he expected from Matthews to very same question, asked just moments before.
So maybe some genuine tension mounted between Babcock and Matthews — and could you blame them? These are two proud competitors that each underdelivered in the first-round loss to Boston, in turn letting each other down.
Surely, though, it’s not an issue that won’t soon be patched up.