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Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe talks to his team during a game against the Winnipeg Jets, in Winnipeg, on Oct. 22.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Last week, Barry Trotz had a meandering conversation about life after coaching and what it would take to pull him back to the NHL.

“Original Six, for me,” Trotz told a hockey podcast. “I’ve never coached an Original Six team.”

Would you like to? Because it feels like that could be arranged. Soon.

The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. One win, followed by four destabilizing losses, each one more embarrassing and out-of-control than the last.

The crunch at the bottom arrived on Sunday – a come-from-ahead overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks, the 32nd-ranked team in the league.

The Leafs’ record no longer matters. What matters is how they look, on and off the ice. They have that weird combo of desperation and surliness that is particular to Toronto hockey teams right before they enter a terminal spin.

Sunday night’s signature highlight wasn’t the giveaways that led to late Anaheim goals. It was primary giveawayer Mitch Marner retreating to the tunnel to punish his equipment after being benched for a shift.

In fairness, this doesn’t look much different from last season’s start. That Toronto team also did pratfalls through October. The difference is tone. That team knew it still had at least one mulligan left (since wasted). This team knows it has none.

That’s how you get a coach doing a public personality reset after every couple of games.

We began the season with a newly flinty Sheldon Keefe. Hard-man Keefe called out his top guys for their effort.

After getting snapped back by his players for presuming to coach them, we got conciliatory Sheldon Keefe. Conciliatory Keefe wanted to explain how words don’t always mean what the dictionary says they do.

On Sunday, we were back to supportive Keefe. This is the paternal figure familiar from the first few months right after he’d inherited The Team That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

“I got a job to do with the group,” Keefe said. “Our group has responded in the past. I thought we responded well here today.”

When you’ve just been asked if you think you’re getting fired, “I thought we responded well today” is a strange sort of answer. It suggests you aren’t really listening any more. You’ve reset yourself all the way back to rhetorical autopilot.

The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.

Then there’s the way they talk about their playing problem: unconvincingly. You can’t keep saying things “suck” – the Leafs’ shared monosyllabic mantra – and then go out and pooch another game to one of the NHL’s tanker teams. At some point, you need some new material.

“We started off a lot worse last year and everyone tried to put shambles in our brains, so it’s not going to happen with us,” Marner said Sunday.

That’s not the sort of material I was thinking of.

This Leafs group has never figured out how to talk to Toronto. Once things start going wrong, the preferred mode of the top players is ‘hard done by’. As though the whole world just doesn’t get how difficult it is to make $10-million a year and have to answer all these questions. Every reply comes with an implied sneer. A few come with actual sneers.

Clearly, something doesn’t work with this group. If we have agreed at this point that it isn’t aggregate talent, then it’s something else. Whatever that something else is – culture, chemistry, the mix, etc. – it isn’t getting better. Just look at them. It’s getting worse.

Which brings us to the next big problem – Trotz.

Trotz is everybody’s current perfect idea of a hockey coach in Toronto. (Mike Babcock used to be their perfect idea but, you know.)

He’s done a lot of wonderful things in his career – establish the team in Nashville, push the Capitals over the top, resuscitate the Islanders. But mostly Trotz is attractive because he doesn’t speak in self-help soliloquies and he’s available. Toronto is always in love with a hard-headed guy who happens to be available.

Another problem – Keefe. The Leafs still have a coach, one who got the kiss of life from his GM a month ago. How are they going to put all this on him?

There’s a relatively new school of thought that the coach should not be blamed when his team gives up. He doesn’t play, right?

But if that’s the case, what is the head coach’s job? If he’s not responsible for results, then what does he do? Because, as we’ve already agreed, he can’t play point on the power play.

If the Leafs are a shambles, that’s Keefe’s fault, ipso facto. He can’t make them be good. He can only take the fall when they aren’t.

Will firing him fix their problem? Probably not.

Will firing him make people feel as though something is happening that isn’t whatever hockey disaster we’re in the midst of? Definitely.

Which means Keefe is doomed. Someone has to go. The Leafs have proved over and over that it’s not going to be their top players. Those chosen few exist in a state of perpetual childhood. Seven years in – longer than the average NHL career – they’re still learning how to win (mostly by losing).

Keefe can probably save himself by beating the Flyers on Wednesday night, but once these storylines are ubiquitous – ‘everyone says the coach is done’ – they become prophecy. Left unfulfilled, they have a tendency to creep upward into management. That can’t be allowed. Much easier to give the people what they expect. That way it’s harder to hold anyone responsible later.

So right now the most important Leaf is someone who isn’t employed by the team. The Leafs can’t afford to hand this over to another newbie such as Keefe. They need a proven commodity to instill confidence in the project. There’s only one obvious guy like that available. Now we sit around waiting to see if what everyone thinks is going to happen happens.

It’s a mess for all involved, including Trotz. If this job could torpedo a reputation Babcock built over decades, it can ruin anyone. There has to be a strong streak of masochism in anyone who’d take it.

Whoever is coaching the Leafs by the weekend, they have my sympathy. It’s not completely their fault, but in this town, they will always take 100 per cent of the blame.