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Two Toronto Maple Leafs fans wear paper bags over their heads during a game

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Truth be told, this was likely the most entertaining game the Toronto Maple Leafs have played in quite some time.

It was close. There were lots of chances. And the result was on the line almost right to the end.

For a huge portion of the fan base, however, all they cared about was the result.

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They wanted a loss. They want Connor McDavid – or at least a reasonable shot at him.

Their team delivered, too, falling 4-3 against the Nashville Predators. This was the Leafs 10th loss in a row – their first drought that long since 1996 – and part of a 3-17-1 slide in their last 21 games.

With the New Jersey Devils winning on the out-of-town scoreboard, Toronto dropped to sixth last in the entire NHL, one of the fastest freefalls in the NHL in recent memory.

The 18 wheeler hasn't merely gone off the cliff this time; it's a smoking crater at the bottom – and it continues to burn.

The particulars here have been danced around enough; the dead horse that is their various foibles has long since been beaten. The bottom line is this team wasn't good enough last season when it finished with 84 points – a record boosted by an improbable nine shootout wins – and its mildly reconfigured cousin isn't good enough this season.

What should be more alarming than the result for ownership is the reaction from Leafs Nation. This is an increasingly disgruntled group of fans, one filled with those who groused bitterly through an underwhelming off-season and vowed to tune out if things again turned sour.

Many have – especially with the only two things left to determine (a) who will be dealt before the March 2 trade deadline and (b) how low they can fall in the draft lottery rankings.

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The games? They don't matter.

"At this stage, this team has become pointless for most of us," Kevin Rolfe from Woodstock, Ont., wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, prior to the Leafs facing the NHL's top team.

"For first time in my life, I'm not watching," Justin Drummond added.

"I'm grateful for the increase in free time," Matt Wright of St. John's said.

This isn't cherry-picking out a few unhappy voices. This is a tidal chorus from a group that has watched the richest team in hockey flail its way through two embarrassing seasons of their own making and doing so with some of the worst contracts in the league now embedded on its cap.

The biggest problem isn't that they've again frittered away a season. The biggest problem is where exactly does the hope come from?

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The Leafs implosion has already begun to show in the ratings, a trend that will likely only grow over the final 30 games, even if the wins (predictably) begin to come again.

Overall, the Leafs have a forgiving fan base. The team has had so little success the last 48 years (and especially the last 10) that even a low playoff seed is treated like much more than it is, as was the case when they lucked into the postseason in the lockout-shortened season two years ago.

But even with the bar set that low – and management signing Mike Komisareks and David Clarksons to huge free agent contracts to try to fast track it – the Leafs have failed to clear it repeatedly.

After years in this cycle, it's clued in even some of the staunchest supporters that the organization is spinning its wheels again and again, forever resigned to finish in the league's mushy middle.

Leafs fans are such a large and disparate group that it's unfair (and impossible) to lump them all together in any kind of grand thesis, but one of the silliest ones that's been proselytized for years in this market is the blame directed their way for the franchise's failings.

No, the fans are not why the Leafs lose. Their expectations are low; their ability to accept any sort of well-laid plan is high.

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This is a league that's become increasingly complex to win in, and, because of the cap, it rewards strategizing over the long term more than ever. It also punishes incompetence, deeply, as teams like the Flyers are about to find out, given their lack of get-out-of-jail-free compliance buyouts until at least 2022.

In that environment, the Leafs lose because of incompetence and impatience at the top, not at the bottom. And, more and more, the man behind the curtain – in this case, GM Dave Nonis, although ownership plays a role and Brendan Shanahan will get centre stage soon enough – is finally getting fingered for his culpability in this mess.

The fans' uncomfortable realization of what's gone on isn't going to bring about instant change, especially when the corporate crowd will always buy out the building, even to watch skating bears. But it will at least help force the point a little, especially with two media conglomerates owning the team.

Fans didn't cause this mess, but they can be a small part of the solution using the only weapon they have.

Many won't watch. Many won't care.

And they'll hope things finally change.

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