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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews controls the puck while Boston Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm defends during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden in Boston on April 20.Bob DeChiara/Reuters

Ahead of Saturday night’s first game against the Boston Bruins, someone asked Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe a question about preparation. The Bruins have two all-star-calibre goalies. They hadn’t announced which one would start. Does that affect your thinking?

On 31 other teams, a straight question gets you a straight-ish answer. But not this one.

“The preparation is about finding ways to get through their team to the goalie. The goalie is an afterthought for us,” Keefe said.

I guess that’s the sort of thing Keefe imagines Dirty Harry-era Clint Eastwood saying if he coached a hockey team, but it doesn’t make him sound super-prepared. It makes him sound rather the opposite.

Are we meant to take his answer literally – that Keefe and his army of assistants are so busy that they don’t spare a moment’s consideration for the opposing goalie – or are we meant to assume that he is so prepared that he has achieved a Zen state in which the goalie dissipates into nothingness?

Either way, it didn’t work.

Having told everyone about it in a tone of dismissal, Keefe’s employees showed the quality of his preparation by failing to get through on anyone. On Saturday night, the Leafs couldn’t have got through a peewee, five-a-side soccer team. They didn’t score a goal until the third period, and it was long over by then. It ended 5-1.

When he coached the team, Mike Babcock used to talk the same general way – ‘Plans? You’re asking me about plans? Don’t trouble yourself, brother. We got plans’ – and get the same exact results. You’re only beginning to notice how much of Babcock’s approach Keefe has copied.

He has not mastered Babcock’s way around a folksy truism, but he’s got the same blank stare and the same humourlessness. If you only started paying attention in the past 10 years, the people who coach the Leafs make the job seem about as much fun as grave digging.

As with Babcock, Keefe answers every question with an implied sigh and, often, an actual one. As though the Leafs make him do this stupid job and all he gets for it is millions of dollars.

At least Babcock had won a few things. I’m not sure where Keefe’s professional world weariness comes from. He certainly hasn’t earned it.

Maybe the next move isn’t to come up with more complicated questions – the sort Keefe & Co. may deign to answer straight up. Maybe the questions should become more basic.

As in, do you know where the arena is? Have you packed all your equipment on the bus? Have you checked?

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How about lunch? Did you remember to have lunch? Lunch is important.

Because the Leafs keep saying there is a plan there is either a) no plan or b) a plan so terrible that no one should be using that word. It isn’t a ‘plan.’ It’s a ‘vague idea that the puck is meant to travel away from our net. Away. The opposite direction.’

If the Leafs lose this series, they lost it on Saturday night. They told everyone not to stay up late worrying and then reversed into the garage door. Who’s dumb enough to believe them now, least of all themselves?

A team this talented with this record of futility going up against one of NHL’s FAANG franchises – the sort that pay off year after year – should come in bent slightly at the waist. It doesn’t matter how many goals you’ve scored when it didn’t matter. It does now, so you are the underdog.

The underdog does not get the benefit of being able to say, yeah, yeah, yeah, we heard you. We got this.

The Leafs don’t got it. They’ve never had it. They don’t know where it is, and if they did, they wouldn’t know how to get there.

“Tonight, we’re going to talk about it. Tomorrow, we’re going to look at it and see what we can do better, and see what we can fix. … It can be a game breaker, so we’ve got to make sure we got it locked in.”

That was Mitch Marner in the postgame. So there you – if the Leafs lose Game 2 on Monday, they’re pooched. Great plan.

The only time the Leafs have a workable plan is in the postgame after a tough loss. Everyone comes out on the same page ready to say the same thing.

“Too many penalties,” Auston Matthews said.

“Penalty, get some slow down for us,” Ilya Samsonov said.

“We took too many penalties, obviously,” Tyler Bertuzzi said.

These identical answers were the first things out of each guy’s mouth.

If it’s this easy to drill them on what to say, why is it so hard to teach them what to do?

There are only two possible answers – either the Leafs are not well coached, or they are uncoachable.

There’s only so many times a professional hockey team can come out and say, “We’ve got to be a little bit more prepared to tone it down a bit” – a Bertuzzi line echoed by others.

How much more tape does Bertuzzi need to watch before it finally clicks that he can’t put the blade of his stick in another guy’s mouth while an official is staring straight at him? Is that part of what the Leafs were talking about Saturday night?

No sports team will tell you exactly what they’re thinking, because they aren’t thinking all that much. Coaches create the impression that they’re working on the Manhattan Project, but anyone with access to YouTube could figure out how to do their job. Maybe not well, but it’s hard to tell the difference when every response is: ‘None of your business.’

There are only two ways to prove the quality of your leadership – explain what you’re doing in a way that makes sense to most people, or win.

Right now, the Leafs can’t do either. If you were in charge, what conclusions would you be making about the plan, or absence thereof?

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