MONTREAL -- Pat Quinn walked into the empty dressing room wearing an overcoat and a crooked smile, joking with reporters, candidly revealing the state of an injured player, looking like he didn't want to leave.
He normally doesn't joke after losses.
He normally doesn't hang around.
He normally doesn't reveal anything about anybody's health.
Quinn is no dummy. He knows that it's over.
You can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, read it in his behaviour.
He knows his time has come with the Maple Leafs, just as his team's time as a playoff pretender came to unofficial conclusion last night in a game that was desperate and pathetic and troubling, everything this hockey season has been.
He knows he will be handsomely compensated to walk away some time in late April or early May -- Quinn is nothing if not an astute negotiator.
He will not be fired before then. John Ferguson, the general manager for the moment, said as much last night.
"We're going to take a look at this at the end of the year," he said. When asked if he had concerns about his own job being in jeopardy, the normally wishy-washy Ferguson answered directly: "I do not."
Perhaps he should.
The question now, after back-to-back embarrassments in Montreal, after being stripped naked by a most ordinary team, is who besides Quinn will take the fall for this fretful season?
Who will accompany the longtime coach out the Maple Leafs door?
The diagnosis is in on this sorry season, Quinn's seventh as Toronto coach, after must-win games translated into 5-1 and 6-2 losses at the Bell Centre. The best before date has passed on this team. The product has gone rancid.
There are now 12 games left in this season going nowhere, 12 games left for one of the most successful coaches in Maple Leafs history.
That seems wrong. Almost everything about this team and this time seems wrong.
Hell, you know the season is lost when you give up one goal on a weak line change and another on a too many men on the ice penalty. Losing is one thing. Self-destruction shouldn't become a Leafs game plan.
Some of this is reminiscent of a quote once attributed to the late football coach, John McKay. When asked what he thought of his team's execution, McKay quipped, "I'm in favour of it."
All Quinn would say in defeat last night was, "There are a good bunch of kids on this team. They work hard."
They're just not good enough. The Leafs are 12th in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of 13th- place Boston, who yesterday fired general manager Mike O'Connell.
Last night, the New York Islanders, who fired their coach and watched their general manager fire himself earlier this season, passed the Leafs by a point.
Last night, the Leafs were handled by the Canadiens, now seven points ahead. Montreal fired its coach halfway through the season.
The Leafs will wait until the gory conclusion before doing what's now apparent.
The real test for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. will come from what it does with Ferguson.
A front page business story in the National Post yesterday indicated that some unnamed MLSE board members believe Ferguson is executing his plan for rebuilding the Leafs, which involved the sacrificing of Quinn.
Quinn wouldn't comment on the story last night, saying he hadn't read it. When asked if he was set up for failure by the GM, he wouldn't answer.
If any of that is true, and that seems beyond belief, then the board of MLSE is even more naive and clueless about sport than it comes off as being publicly. This remains a team with limited parts with which to build, not enough money with which to buy and not enough speed to play the new NHL game.
Other than that, all is well.
Now it's time to play out the string -- and wonder just how long anybody remains employed.