A controversy of sorts ensued after Thursday night's 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay when Toronto players did not raise their sticks in acknowledgement of their fans — a practice that has become common in the NHL when a home team wins.
Some speculated that the players were angry with their fans, a small number of whom have thrown team merchandise onto the ice during losses this season, and a larger number of whom expressed their displeasure as the struggling team lost recent back-to-back games to Buffalo and Nashville by a combined score of 15-4.
But Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf denied after Friday's practice that the non-salute was not the players' way of firing back.
“We have great respect for our fans. We’ve got unbelievable fans, and we know how much support we have. This by no means was an attack on our fans or anything personal,” Phaneuf said. “This was about our team and changing up our routine.”
Forward James van Riemsdyk agreed.
“This has nothing to do with our passion for our fans,” he said. “I’m sorry if that’s the way it's being taken, but it wasn’t a slight to our fans.”
Forward Joffrey Lupul, who's out with a hand injury, questioned the sincerity of post-game salutes.
“Personally, I feel it feels kind of fake,” he said.