Without technically issuing an ultimatum, Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan essentially said Friday that it's time for the players to show management what they're made of or big changes will be coming.
Shanahan said he spoke to the team Friday morning at Air Canada Centre to deliver that same message.
"I felt it was a good time to remind them what expectations are, try to galvanize the group," Shanahan said. "We're not at the end of the season, we're at the midpoint of the season; they're still in the hunt here. How they're going to be defined is really up to them. I also wanted to make it very clear to them that we're watching, we're on it. They're not getting by us. They're not escaping us. We're not going to be a group that is afraid to act if we feel we can make ourselves better."
The first act came Tuesday, when the Maple Leafs fired coach Randy Carlyle and named Peter Horachek as the interim coach for the rest of the season.
Shanahan said the decision to fire Carlyle was made by general manager Dave Nonis but came in consultation with assistant general manager Kyle Dubas, assistant to the general manager Brandon Pridham, director of player personnel Mark Hunter and Shanahan.
"Dave felt it was his job to make that call; I agree with him," Shanahan said. "He's the general manager. He made the call. He made the announcement. But we make these decisions as a group. We don't hide behind one person."
The Maple Leafs lost 6-2 to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, Horachek's first game in his new role. It was their third consecutive loss and eighth regulation loss in their past 10 games. Toronto enters play Friday three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Shanahan harped on the idea that consistency has been a problem all season for the Maple Leafs.
"It hasn't been good enough," he said. "We've seen our team, this group, play the kind of hockey we want to play, some very good hockey. But the fact of the matter is to have success in this League you have to be more consistent. We have not been consistent enough."
They weren't last season either, which is a big reason why Shanahan was hired in April.
Last season the Maple Leafs were deficient defensively and far too reliant on goaltending, which led to a collapse at the end of the season, when they lost 12 of their final 14 games to fall out of playoff contention. Toronto finished 26th in goals-against (3.07) and 30th in shots-against (35.9).
This season Toronto is second in the NHL in goals (3.15 per game), but 25th in goals-against (3.10 per game) and 29th in shots-against (34.2 per game).
Toronto's top three scorers, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, have combined for 108 points, but they're also a combined minus-23 and each of them has a Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 less than 43.0 percent, according to War-on-ice.com.
"Being where we are in goals-against and being where we are in shots-against, it's not acceptable," Shanahan said.
Shanahan is hoping the coaching change and the start of the second half of the season serves as a refresh for the Maple Leafs, but he was clear in saying the pressure on Toronto's core players is higher now because the spotlight has been turned on them following the coaching change.
"We're going to learn a lot more," Shanahan said. "There's a lot more pressure on them. They know it. Individually some of them have to be better. As a team we have to be better.
"It's going to be a big challenge and we're going to learn a lot of things about our core in the coming weeks."
If Toronto's management group isn't happy with what it learns, Shanahan was clear that major changes could be on the horizon.
"One of the things we expressed to the players today is we've seen the good and we've seen the bad, and at a certain point you're going to tell us who you are," Shanahan said.
"This is another opportunity to see what our guys are made of."