MONTREAL -- If the general manager and the coach of the Maple Leafs can't get their stories straight on simple matters, let alone get along, then how is the rest of the team supposed to thrive in so poisoned an environment?
It is little wonder the Leafs were blasted last night in Montreal in a game they needed to win.
It is little wonder that a day the began with miscommunication between John Ferguson and Pat Quinn -- the coach should be the first one to know that his goalie is done for the season -- ended with an evening performance of little cohesion and much confusion.
This kind of thing doesn't happen accidentally.
This kind of dysfunction requires effort of the least productive kind.
Last night, in the most meaningful Toronto-Montreal hockey game in 27 years, the Leafs relinquished whatever opportunity they had to claw their way back into a playoff race of pure pretenders. This was supposed to represent a new beginning after Tuesday's impressive win over Carolina.
Instead, it represents the beginning of the end, a countdown to the inevitability of major change.
- The official end for Ed Belfour as a Maple Leaf, after two breathtaking seasons followed by one painful and expensive miscalculation. He will be paid to go away.
- The beginning of the end as Pat Quinn after seven seasons as Leafs coach. Quinn has always been measured by his remarkable numbers. But without spectacular goaltending for the first time in Toronto, the wins aren't there and neither are the numbers. He will be paid to go away.
- The commencement of the John Ferguson watch. Ferguson was hired on the cheap by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and it's clear the company is getting what it paid for. Quinn, never a Ferguson fan, is certainly less of one every time he looks at his roster. Each may end up being burned for the other's displeasure and lack of performance. He should be paid to go away.
And the very same company that hired Ferguson as a compromise candidate -- Quinn wanted Steve Tambellini, Ken Dryden wanted Neil Smith, so smiling Richard Peddie settled on neither of them and wound up with Ferguson -- recently paid seven times what Ferguson earns to come up with a new GM for the Raptors.
Are the Leafs about to go the more expensive route?
The roster utilized last night and some of the decisions involved were telling enough. Take Luke Richardson, for example. The Leafs did at the trade deadline for reasons still unexplained.
The Leafs then paired Richardson with Aki Berg to form the Toronto version of Done and Doner. Richardson and Berg were victimized on the first Montreal goal four minutes and 35 seconds in. If that wasn't bad enough, for whatever reason, Leafs defensive coach Rick Ley didn't bother to change that pair after the goal by Chris Higgins.
Twelve seconds later, Berg and Richardson were twisted like pretzels again and the Canadiens led 2-0.
Another defence pair was Alexander Khavanov, a Ferguson discovery, and Belak, a Quinn loyalist. No team in the NHL could expect to be successful with a backline of Khavanov, Belak, Berg and Richardson -- all of them seventh defencemen on stronger teams.
And with that kind of defence, Mikael Tellqvist -- nice guy but small goalie, who wasn't sharp last night -- looked at times overwhelmed by Les Canadiens.
The truth on the Leafs' playoff chase: They are closer to 13th place than they are to eighth. While the Canadiens moved five points ahead of the Leafs last night, the Atlanta Thrashers came back to win in overtime and are six points ahead of Toronto.
So, there the Leafs sit, six points out of eighth place, just four points ahead of 13th- place Boston. The Leafs are edging closer to the bottom than the top, which is fine for draft position, not for playoff revenue.
Winning starts at the top. It always does. Just not here. Just not now. Just not during this lost season.