Addressing reporters Wednesday before the opener against the Montreal Canadiens, Shanahan hesitated to make sweeping generalizations about what he expects from a group that's different from the one that collapsed to miss last year's playoffs.
"We certainly have some hopes, but things like your identity are not something that you say the afternoon of the home opener," Shanahan said. "It's something that you earn by going out on the ice and establishing your identity."
Shanahan said he encouraged players to "write their story" individually and as a team. The Leafs' story before he took over was of disappointing endings, whether it be the Game 7 debacle against the Boston Bruins in 2013 or the way things fell apart with 12 losses in 14 games last spring.
One thing Shanahan wants the Leafs to do better is hold onto the puck. They had the worst possession statistics in the NHL in 2013-14.
"The puck is something that we have to own a little bit more," Shanahan said. "There are teams that are built different ways to own the puck and have the puck. That's the key to the hockey game."
Minutes after coach Randy Carlyle said qualifying for the playoffs was one way for the Leafs to consider this season a success, Shanahan said the message to fans shouldn't be in words but in actions.
That was Carlyle's message to his players, too.
"There was a lot of time and effort put in over the course of the summer months to try to establish a template in which we would expect our players to play to," he said. "Now it's time to apply that. The last words I said to the players: 'It's up to you now.'"
Without an enforcer on the opening-night roster, Carlyle has stressed "team toughness."
To Shanahan, that means something very specific.
"Players that when the temperature of a game goes up, they don't shrink," Shanahan said. "To me it doesn't matter what your size is, where you're from. To me, as the temperature of a game goes up, players that sort of relish that moment and don't shrink in that role are players that impress us as a management group."
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