There is no more hollow ritual in professional sport than the closed-door meeting.
Aren't they all closed door?
Are there meetings that are open to the public, where we're all invited to offer our thoughts on tactics and the pregame buffet in a spirit of openness and community? Because I have a lot of thoughts about the buffet (i.e. "too many healthy options").
But like the favoured few who live behind the Toronto Maple Leafs' portcullis, I have few insights to offer about the team. Nothing about this club's semi-weekly Jekyll and Hyde routine makes any sense.
For what already seems like the hundredth time, the Leafs were embarrassed at home on Saturday night. It wasn't the lack of effort – though that was a problem.
It was the imperious ease with which the Boston Bruins toyed with them over the first two periods, then spent the entirety of the third pulling away. It was Lance Armstrong-esque. It ended 4-1. It might as well have been 14.
Afterward, they didn't open the locker room as scheduled. Instead, they talked among themselves.
"Our coach came in and talked to us, then we talked as a group," Cody Franson said.
One supposes that, in this case, 'talked' is alternately a euphemism for 'screamed' and 'sat there staring at each other like a bunch of sock puppets after the hands have been removed.' Nobody said what was said, because whatever was said privately would certainly disappoint when repeated publicly. Many things ail the Leafs. None of them will be cured with hockey-style speechifyin'.
If HBO's 24/7 taught us anything, it is that no one in the NHL is capable of giving an inspiring team talk. Or anything resembling cogent instructions.
It's all slapping your palm with a rolled-up sheaf of papers and interchanging the words "[expletive]" and "intensity."
The guys sit there, swaying in place, going "yeah. Yeah. YEAH." The order of the capital letters is very important.
This is a big part of why 24/7 went off the air – the NHL's locker-room pantomime is unwatchable dreck. It's like they all mistakenly downloaded Friday Night Lights dubbed into Mandarin. They get the body language right, but none of what they say makes any sense.
Rituals have their place, but this sort of nonsense is not really meant to impact the players. It's intended to impress the ticket-buying public: 'We're upset, too.' I honestly wonder if it works.
Do you think that professional hockey players care more or less if they come out after another grim defeat and sigh? Or weep? Or scream? Or sit blank faced?
Would you feel any better if they ripped each other, or guaranteed to win the next one?
Is there a reaction that would make you feel any more confident in a team that is pretty clearly in over its head? There are 30 clubs in the NHL. By definition, more than a few have to be mediocre. The Leafs are one of those. I think we're on safe ground saying that after eight games.
It's not the losing. That can always be turned around. Every year, someone remakes their essential DNA mid-season.
The problem isn't even the way the Leafs are losing. It's the way they're reacting to the losing. After only two weeks, you can feel the angst as they rush to the bottom trying to beat themselves up over every loss.
"Frustration. Anger. Those are two things that were probably front and centre from the coaching staff's perspective," coach Randy Carlyle said after the game.
Frustration is understandable. Anger is a little odd. Anger suggests a team that will not, rather than cannot, do what you want them to do.
No decent professional gets angry if they can see the solution off in the distance. Carlyle is a more than decent professional. Thus, anger suggests giving up.
I suppose if you had to watch Jake Gardiner getting scorched again and again because of his timidity, you might get a little angry, too.
Gardiner typifies the problem with this team – he repeatedly makes mistakes due to an overabundance of caution. Errors of aspiration you can live with. But if you go out there afraid to lose, you almost certainly will.
Asked why the team is so much poorer at home this year (one win and four losses vs. three wins on the road), Nazem Kadri said, "No explanation."
Well, it has an explanation. Everything does. Whose job is it to find one? Or are they all too busy sitting around the clubhouse drum circle trying to get in touch with their inner selves?
This is not going to be an easy year – especially on those nights when Phil Kessel isn't available to win games by himself. It never was.
This was team president Brendan Shanahan's 'show me what you got' year. Shanahan doesn't bother asking questions. He's waiting for answers that will be given by each individual through their play.
Right now, a lot of Leafs are failing a one-question test.
However it turned out, there was going to be change. Maybe that's what's got into their heads.
This is very quickly becoming corrosive – a year driven by panic and despair. You begin to fear a collapse so jarring, it echoes into future seasons. That's not yet likely, but it's growing more so day by day.
The worst sign of that – a retreat from what's happening on the ice; followed by a desperate retrenching around the messaging that's happening off it.