Sometimes you have to wonder what exactly Brendan Shanahan sees when he watches his team play from night to night.
Especially on the ugly ones.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a funny animal. They're not an Edmonton or a Buffalo, a team wallowing in the NHL basement in No-hope-ville. But they certainly don't inspire confidence that they're anything close to a contender either, even in wins.
Monday in Tampa was a good example. The Leafs were outshot 15-4 in the first period. They rarely had the puck. They hardly even took a draw in the offensive zone, let alone had sustained time there.
But they were up 2-0 – scoring on their first two shots – and did it against one of the best teams in the conference, no less.
It didn't last.
Their record isn't holding up so well either, not after losing for the fifth time in six games.
The conundrum for Shanahan with this group isn't gauging how good they are. There shouldn't be a lot of mystery around that question, not given how this core under this coach has struggled so mightily defensively and won only 90 of 185 games since he took over.
Even when they're scoring and getting solid goaltending – and they often have – they're in the NHL's lower middle class, somewhere between a wild-card spot and 12th in the East, a spot from which it's exceptionally unlikely much of anything materializes.
So what the team's new president has to figure out is how they get better out of this, even if there's no easy answer.
Toronto's 3-2 loss to the Lightning was another particularly egregious example of what ails this team. They were outshot 29-10 at even strength through 40 minutes and had possession of the puck less than 36 per cent of the time.
They had no business being in the game, really, and Steve Stamkos's eventual winner felt like a foregone conclusion given how lopsided play was.
Pity James Reimer, who stepped into face the barrage this time with Jonathan Bernier out with the flu.
But that's all merely a continuation of what's happened recently. In their last 12 games, the Leafs have been outshot 458-328 – an average of 11.2 a night – part of a rerun of last season that has to fall on head coach Randy Carlyle.
How could it not?
Changing the coach isn't a panacea. It won't transform this roster into a world beater, one full of hearty back checkers and diligent crease clearers. But what it may allow for is a glimpse of what these players can do in a system that isn't so risk-averse and under a coach that can effect some positive change territorially.
Season after season, Carlyle's impact appears to be a negative one over time, as this is the third year in a row the Leafs have been progressively outshot more the longer he has tried to implement a solution to that very issue.
That's likely the easy part of the issue facing Leafs management at this point. The tougher challenges come when you take a closer look at the Leafs personnel. What do you do with a roster that has some big (and bad) contracts, some key pending free agents and not nearly enough good two-way players?
Especially with so little available, via trade or on the open market?
Looking back, the curious thing about Shanahan's first off-season with the Leafs is it amounted to a mild vote of confidence for what was in place, despite the warning signs. He kept the coach. He kept the core. He preached patience, wanting to make depth adds and see if there was more there.
Well, 37 games into this season, the movie looks roughly the same. Standing pat in so many areas looks like a bad bet.
Ultimately, however, the response to that is what's important – whether it comes by the trade deadline or in the summer – and it will have to be a lot more proactive and transformative for the franchise to take a significant step forward.
What they've got here isn't going to do it.
And, if he wasn't before, Shanahan should be convinced by this point.
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