The Chicago Blackhawks have had their fair share of bad luck so far this season. Things were looking up in the offseason when former player Andrew Shaw returned to the roster, but he recently fell to the injury bug that has plagued their locker room. He was placed on long-term injured reserve in late November due to concussion-like symptoms. Despite not being very active on the scoresheet, his absence continues to hurt the Blackhawks’ season.
Before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2016, Shaw won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and tallied a total of 70 goals and 67 assists over 322 games. He always kept the crowd on the edge of their seats with his rough style of play and entertaining antics. He was a fan-favorite for his physicality on the ice, something the Blackhawks lacked before his return. Ryan Hartman and John Hayden were quality enforcers before they were both traded, but they didn’t have the same dominant on-ice presence that Shaw had. Some current players like Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta, and Ryan Carpenter show some signs of being an enforcer, but nobody embodies his role quite like Shaw.
His style did not change during his time with the Canadiens and doesn’t plan on changing anytime soon, as he told NBC Sports Chicago, “I find if I’m not playing on the edge, I’m not playing great, I need to play physical. Even in preseason, I was just finishing checks — clean, shoulder-to-shoulder — and was getting penalty after penalty. Hockey still is a physical game. There’s still hitting; it’s still legal. So I’m going to go out there and play hard, make it hard on my opponents, make it hard on them physically, do what I do. Not going to change who I am now.”
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman echoed a similar sentiment, as he told NHL.com, “He’s a fearless player, and he plays much bigger than his actual size. He’s got an underrated skill set. When people talk about Shaw, they always talk about his intensity and competitiveness. He does go to the net, and he scores a lot of goals from in tight, and he gets a lot of shots from around the net. That’s where you need to be if you want to score in today’s game.”
Fans and players alike were ecstatic when Shaw returned to the roster in October. He was excited for his return, as he told NHL.com, “I feel I still have a lot to give. I came off a pretty good year, and I’m excited, feeling healthy, feeling energized. To come back to a city that’s given me so much love and helped me grow to who I am, I have nothing but smiles.”
An enforcer was what the Blackhawks needed, but the bliss was short-lived.
Back with the Blackhawks
With three goals and seven assists in 26 games, Shaw didn’t have the offensive start that fans were hoping for. However, he still found a way to make his presence known on the ice, as he told the Chicago-Sun-Times, “I’m going to play the ice that’s given to me and just go out there and compete, battle, make sure we can sustain pucks, help out on faceoffs, forechecking, keeping pucks alive, that sort of thing.” (from ‘Andrew Shaw finally finding niche on present-day Blackhawks roster’ best all-around player through 4 games’ – Chicago Sun-Times – 11/22/19).
He didn’t waste time on returning to his old ways by getting under the skin of his opponents. Teammate Patrick Kane praised one of his hits after a 3-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 14. He told NBC Sports Chicago, “You look at Shawzy’s hit, the stuff he’s been doing early in the season — whether it’s scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it’s been awesome for the team. That’s something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it’s a way we can get the puck back.”
Despite not scoring as many goals as expected, the physicality Shaw brings to the game isn’t something to be shoved under the rug. The Blackhawks have a record of 2-5-1 since Shaw’s injury, and it’s safe to say that the lack of physicality on the ice has been one of the many factors contributing to the losing record.
His physical style of play not only creates a strong and intimidating force on the ice but also helps boost morale among teammates. Shaw’s many brawls have one thing in common: teammates cheering for him on the bench and having his back on the ice. He isn’t afraid to stand up for himself and other players, creating a strong team bond. Without a strong team bond, nobody will ever reach their full potential.
Shaw will likely return to the ice on the Dec. 27 game against the New York Islanders. Despite the likelihood of him returning soon, the Blackhawks need to find other players to help increase the strong presence on the ice that he does. De Haan, Maatta, and Carpenter have a bit of an edge and could learn from Shaw, who is beginning to embrace his new leadership role with the Blackhawks. He told Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times, “I’m a little bit more of a leader. I think just show them that hard work can keep you in this league for a long time.” (from ‘Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw embraces role as veteran leader’ – Chicago Sun-Times – 11/30/19).
The best way to see how Shaw’s influence affects other players is to look at the statistics of hits-per-game. Shaw is second overall in for the most hits-per-game with an average of 2.9. De Haan is the only player who surpasses Shaw with an average of 3.2. His average has decreased to three hits per game since Shaw’s departure. It’s important to note that he has only played five games since Shaw’s injury due to an injury of his own, but the decrease in hits is something worth noting.
Other players with a similar playing style to Shaw have also decreased their hits-per-game averages in hits-per-game since his departure. Carpenter’s average has gone from 1.9 to 1.88, and Maatta’s has dropped from 2.1 to 1.2. These differences may be small, but it is solid evidence that the Blackhawks have become a softer team since Shaw’s injury.
The current injury bug sweeping through the Blackhawks’ locker room isn’t helping their bad luck so far this season. Shaw’s placement on injured reserve has eliminated their strong physical presence on the ice. Shaw is likely to return near the end of December, but the damage his los caused won’t go away overnight.