Is Shaw the Canadiens’ Forgotten Man?

When Andrew Shaw was acquired by the Habs for two second-round draft picks in 2016, it seemed like somewhat of a steal at the time. Many fans who watched playoff hockey were familiar with his exploits as a member of the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks teams of 2013 and 2015. He was the prototypical high energy player who was not afraid of antagonizing the opposition in the offensive zone and carried with him enough skill to generate scoring chances and play at both ends of the ice.

There was also a downside; his sometimes reckless play resulted in several fines and suspensions. While he was healthy with the Blackhawks, he played only 68 and 51 games in his two years with the Canadiens, and will not be starting the regular season with the team in 2018-19 as he is recovering from knee surgery. Only 27, Shaw potentially has many years of competitive hockey ahead of him, but his health raises questions about how long he can continue his current style of play.

Shaw’s Attitude is Needed in the Dressing Room

In recent weeks, the Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made it clear his dissatisfaction with the team centred around their attitude last year. This opinion fueled his apparent feud with captain Max Pacioretty, who is still with the Habs but is clearly a subject of trade rumours. It may also have contributed to the departure of Alex Galchenyuk, who was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in June for Maxi Domi. While Pacioretty was often criticized for his lack of on-ice commitment, Shaw was seen as a player who stood up for his teammates and wore his emotions on his sleeve, often to his detriment. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doubted his desire to compete.

Andrew Shaw, Montreal Canadiens, NHL
Andrew Shaw straddles the line when it comes to NHL rules. But he seems to get away without discipline more times than not. (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports) 

 An “emotional” player always faces a dilemma when he chooses to exercise more self-control. If he reigns in his temper too much, he may lose the added edge that contributed to his success. If he continues to play recklessly he will incur further, and more severe discipline from the league. In this respect, Shaw made progress last year, reducing his penalty minutes and more specifically, avoiding penalties at inopportune times that otherwise would have affected the outcome of games.

There is no doubt he has proven his value to coach Claude Julien. He was able to play at both centre and on the wing when needed last year and was strong on faceoffs while maintaining a solid shooting percentage. He was also not afraid of battling in the crease and creating offensive plays that started in his own end. The big question next year is where he will play.

Shaw’s Future Without Pacioretty

Last season, Shaw played consistently with Pacioretty and Phillip Danault. If the Habs’ captain is traded, Julien will have to experiment with different combinations by matching him with another playmaking winger who can create the simple passing plays he thrives on.

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Shaw’s skill would clearly be wasted on the fourth line, and the Canadiens appear to have a solid checking, third line with the return of Tomas Plekanec, the addition of Joel Armia, and Charles Hudon, who played well with Plekanec last season.

The recent signing of Danault to a three-year deal indicates he fits prominently in the team’s near future. A jack-of-all-trades, he can expect time on the top two lines before first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi is ready to join the team. This means Shaw will not be used at centre unless the Canadiens catch the injury bug again next year. With Brendan Gallagher coming off his best season and Artturi Lehkonen expected to have a breakout year, where does this leave Shaw?

Domi and Shaw: A Match Made in Heaven?

A potential Pacioretty trade will allow Lehkonen to move back to his natural position at left wing and open a spot for Shaw on the second line, potentially with Domi and Danault. Domi’s relentless energy and passing ability, especially with quick feeds to the slot where Shaw is in his element, are a perfect match. Both players also flourish in five-on-five situations. In his first media scrum, Domi was quick to mention his potential linemate:

“You got guys like Brendan Gallagher, you got Shawsy (Andrew Shaw), I mean the list really goes on with all the young kids coming up. Just to be a part of that and to fit in is pretty special. So huge honour. I’m really, really excited. I’m not really sure what kind of role I’ll have, but whatever that is I’m going to try and do it to the best of my ability.”

Trading Shaw Is Not an Option

With five years remaining on a contract that will pay him $3.9 million next year, Shaw would not be a bargain, especially considering his health and often erratic behaviour. Even if he has achieved more balance emotionally, the two concussions will make any hockey GM nervous, and he has not put up the type of statistics worthy of a major gamble either. In some respects, keeping him may be a blessing in disguise for the Habs.

The Canadiens will feel his absence when they start training camp in September. While he continues to recover, Bergevin and Julien will have to demonstrate to the fans and media their commitment to Shaw as a player. After all, if an attitude adjustment is what is needed for the Habs to turn their fortunes around, they must get behind the player who embodies the spirit of giving 100% every time he steps on the ice.