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Toronto Maple Leafs new interim head coach Peter Horachek talks with Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel as he hangs his head

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

There were jerseys dropping on the ice left and right, as three disgruntled fans threw them over the glass and were escorted out by security.

The players' heads were bowed.

And the fans – the ones that were left in the Air Canada Centre – were booing.

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We have been here before with the Toronto Maple Leafs. We're here again.

They have collapsed. And they know it.

"I don't know – it's been like this for a couple years now hasn't it?" top scorer Phil Kessel said when asked why the team tailspins so often. "Uhmmm… I have no idea.

"We go through great stretches then we have these just horrendous stretches. And it's pretty frustrating."

He sighed.

"I mean it's similar, isn't it?" the reluctant face of the franchise said. "The same stuff keeps happening. I don't know what to make of it anymore."

The Leafs are 3-13-0 in their last 16 games and are on pace for 82 points, which is tied for the eighth fewest in the league and two fewer than last year's awful 84-point campaign.

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They have scored only two goals in their last five games, the first time that's happened since 1929.

Last year also ended with a collapse (3-13-0), which makes this the fourth consecutive season Toronto has had a decent record or position – i.e. 4-1 lead in Game 7 of a playoff series – and frittered it away calamitously.

The first time it happened was under former coach Ron Wilson in 2012, when they were on pace for 96 points in February with a 28-19-6 record. They then went 1-9-1, Wilson was fired and thus began the Randy Carlyle era.

Under the new coach, they were lost the rest of the way, finishing the year with six wins in their last 18 games.

This feels like that: A hopeless abyss the team fell into under another regime that the new fellow has no hope of turning around.

Part of it is the history involved. Eight current members of the Leafs were on the team during that first collapse in 2012 – Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson, Matt Frattin, Jake Gardiner, Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer – and three years later it's been burned into their brains again and again what that feels like.

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When the losses and adversity begin to come, they tighten up, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Leafs collapse because they're not a good team; they also collapse because they have collapsed before.

Collapsing has become part of their identity; it's part of who they are.

"It's frustrating," Phaneuf said. "It's extremely frustrating. We're doing a lot of things in areas that we weren't doing earlier in the year better and now it's the other side of it [on offence where] we're having a tough time of it."

"Just momentum," Nazem Kadri added. "Momentum's killer. Once you get on a slide, other teams are eager to keep you on that slide."

This is all to say that the Leafs are a fragile team. They had poor goaltending under Wilson, a poor defensive system under Carlyle and no offence so far in seven games under Peter Horachek, but the real constant is simply not a good enough roster – one built poorly by poor management and with huge amounts of cap room dedicated to flotsam like David Clarkson, who has averaged under 12 minutes a game (and deserved less) under the new coach.

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That's in direct contrast to what wins Stanley Cups. The so-called new NHL is one where champions are built by general managers; on the flipside, train wrecks are engineered by their makers as well.

Just look at the bottom of the standings right now.

The Leafs are certainly a train wreck; they're simply a unique one that can hit highs at points before crashing to deleterious lows.

Part of that was how Carlyle coaches; part of that is it's becoming ingrained in the franchise.

Which is a scary thought.

With 35 games left, the Leafs cannot make the playoffs. They'd need an absurd record to do so, and they don't have that kind of streak in them while playing this type of constrained system (which incidentally they really need to learn at some point).

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But they do have more goals to give than what has come lately. Bad luck has been a part of what's happened under Horachek and the concern is now that they'll ruin a good draft position with a hot run in late March and into April.

That that seems inevitable only shows how low this franchise has sunk: There's even a template for failure that includes not failing enough.

The players may have had some stern words for the jersey tossers on Monday after yet another loss, but you can certainly see where those fans are coming from.

Hope is in short supply in Leaf land right now, and they may not need those sweaters for a while.

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