Brendan Shanahan: A Distinguished Devil

With the recent hoopla surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs of late, I thought I would take a look at their current President and alternate governor and former Devil Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan was born January 23, 1969 in Etobicoke, Ontario, where he excelled in lacrosse and hockey. He was drafted by the Devils second overall in the 1987 NHL Draft after spending two years with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Shanahan made his debut during the Devils’ historic 1987-88 season at the age of 18. That season he would play 65 games with 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points and 131 PIM. In the Devils deep 1988 playoff run that took them within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals, he would dress in twelve games scoring 2 goals and an assist for 3 points and amassing 44 PIM. His stats would continue to grow in his time with the Devils, as he played in 68 games in 1988-89, scored 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points and 115 PIM. The Devils failed to make the playoffs that season, but in just over 120 games, Shanahan had made a reputation for himself as a goalscorer who also had an edge to him (in fact Shanahan is the only NHL player to date with over 600 career goals and 2,000 penalty minutes). His third season with the Devils and in the NHL (1989-90), saw him play in 73 games, score 30 goals and add 42 helpers for 72 points (roughly a point-per-game clip) along with 137 PIM. He would finish his first stint in New Jersey the next year (1990-91), Shanahan would play 75 games for the Devils (he would, in fact, never play a full season in a Devils uniform), but he would score 29 goals with 37 assists for 66 points and 141 PIM.

Following that season, Shanahan became a free agent for the first time in his career. He would sign with the St. Louis Blues, but because he was a restricted free agent, the Devils were to be compensated for the signing. Normally, under the collective bargaining agreement in effect at the time, that compensation would be draft picks. However, the year previous, the Blues, in trying to build a winner, had signed defenseman Scott Stevens from the Washington Capitals and still owed their four first round picks to the Caps. St. Louis general manager Ron Caron offered goaltender Curtis Joseph and center Rod Brind’Amour to the Devils as compensation along with two later draft picks. The Devils however were after one player only: Scott Stevens. An arbitrator would decide that the future Devils’ captain would move to the New Jersey franchise in exchange for Shanahan. A new chapter had opened in both the career of Brendan Shanahan and the New Jersey Devils.

Shanahan would play in St. Louis from 1991 to 1995, really building on his stats from his days with the Devils. With the Blues, he would tally 277 games played, 156 goals and 150 assists for 306 points and a total of 692 PIM. He would be voted to the 1994 NHL All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden for the Western Conference and would be named to the NHL First All-Star Team at season’s end. Internationally, Shanahan would win the 1991 Canada Cup for Team Canada during this part of his career.

Then, on July 27, 1995, the Blues traded him to the Hartford Whalers straight up for Chris Pronger. Shanahan only played one season in Connecticut, but did succeed another former Devil, Pat Verbeek (who had been traded to the Rangers), as team captain. In his lone season with “the Whale” Shanahan played in 76 games, scored 45 goals and 34 assists for 79 points and amassed 125 PIM. He was voted to the 1996 All-Star Game in Boston, but, with the uncertainty surrounding the Whaler franchise in the mid-1990’s, he would soon ask for a trade out of Hartford. That wish would be granted on October 9, 1996, just 2 games into 1996-97. Shanahan was off to the Detroit Red Wings along with Brian Glynn for Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey and a first round draft pick. He was about to embark on the most successful portion of his career.

The Red Wings had struggled in the postseason in the 1990’s. They made the Finals in 1995, but were of course swept by the Devils. The following year, they again made an early exit, this time at the hands of the eventual-Stanley Cup champs, the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals. Shanahan was looked at to be the final piece of the puzzle that would finally get the Wings over the hump. He did not disappoint. Shanahan would post 47 goals (he had scored once in two games with Hartford) and 41 assists for 88 points that first season in 81 games. He added 131 PIM and would play in 20 games in the playoffs, posting 17 points, as the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Ultimately, during his time in Motown, Shanahan would win three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998 and 2002), finish with 716 games played, 309 goals, 324 assists, 633 points and 1,037 penalty minutes. He was named to the 1997 All-Star Game in San Jose, scored his 1,000th NHL point (with two goals against the Dallas Stars in 2002),  and, in 2002, be named to the Second NHL All-Star Team after the season. Also in 2002, he won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics, putting him in the elite “Triple Gold Club” (in addition to the Olympic gold medal and his Stanley Cups, he also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 1994 World Championships). He was also a member of the Red Wings team that won the President’s Trophy winning teams twice (2002 and 2006) and won a King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2003 for his humanitarian efforts off the ice (he started a program that purchased and installed smoke detectors in low-income homes in the Detroit area).

Having accomplished most of what he could with the Wings, Shanahan signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 9, 2006 with the New York Rangers. Shanahan would play in 140 games for the Rangers over two seasons, scoring 52 goals, 56 assists and racking up 108 points and 82 PIM. During his time with the Rangers, he won the inaugural Mark Messier Leadership Award, given monthly to a player chosen by Mark Messier to a player that shows leadership skills on and off the ice and was selected to the 2007 All-Star Game in Dallas where he was named captain of the Eastern Conference.

His time with the Rangers came to an end after the 2008-09 season when he was not resigned. He would sit out the beginning of the season until January 10, 2009, when he signed a one-year contract with the team where it all began: the Devils. It had been 17 years and 294 days between Shanny’s two stints with the Devils (an NHL record for longest gap in tenure with one team). Shanahan would score in his first game back with the Devils (a goal against the Nashville Predators). He would play in 34 games for the Devils that year, scoring a total of six goals, eight assists for 14 points and 29 PIM. He would play in all seven of the Devils’ playoff games that season, as the Atlantic Division champion Devils were upset by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. He had one goal and three points in those playoffs. Although he was ready to return for a 22 season in the NHL, in fact he played in four of the Devils preseason games in 2009-10; he would quietly retire after scoring the Devils last preseason goal that year.

Following his retirement, he has served as the NHL’s Vice President of Hockey and Business Development (named so in December 2009) and as the NHL’s Director of Player Discipline, when he succeeded Colin Campbell on June 1, 2011. Then on April 11, 2014, he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as their President and alternate governor, where he will oversee all operations of the club.

Although the job in Toronto brings great pressure, no person could be better suited for it than Brendan Shanahan. Shanny made a career of performing under pressure and, in doing so, became one of the greatest products of the Devils to ever skate in the NHL.

Note: I would like to extend my condolences to the friends and families of Pat Quinn and Viktor Tikhonov, both innovative coaches and general hockey men who will be dearly missed by the hockey community.

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