At the conclusion of Thursday’s 5-2 home defeat of Tampa Bay, Toronto’s players neglected to salute those in attendance at the corner of Carlton and Church with a center ice display of upraised sticks. Quizzed afterwards by the Globe & Mail’s Darren Yourk, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf insisted, “It was nothing against our fans. We respect our fans. We thank our fans for the great support we have. It was not supposed to be taken the way that it has been.”

Phaneuf confirmed that, yes, the players had decided as a team before the game to abandon the practice of skating to centre ice as group to raise their sticks to those who haven’t headed for the exits yet in a show of appreciation.

The explanation? The team was looking to change things up after a string of lacklustre performances on home ice and they will be sticking with it.

“We have great respect for our fans,” Phaneuf said. “We’ve got unbelievable fans and we know how much support we have. This, by no means, was any attack at our fans or anything personal. It was more about our team and changing up our routine.”

For some, the decision to not salute was interpreted as the players’s response to the recent trend of jerseys being tossed on the ice and the “Let’s go Raptors,” chant that started during Tuesday’s 9-2 drubbing by the Predators.

Phaneuf said the team realizes it’s a select few fans that have reacted in anger and apologized for how the incident has been interpreted.