Brendan Shanahan: Broadway Curtain Call?

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IMay 1, 2008

He's come a long way from his London Knights days.  Being a regular attendee, every time I enter that building in London, Ontario I look up at the rafters, point out his banner, and chuckle because he was a dead ringer of Happy Gilmore in his teen years.

But twenty seasons, five teams, and three Stanley Cups later, tonight may very well be the last time we see him on the ice.

And if it is to be, it is with fond memories, and teary eyes that I will say bye to one of my favourite players off all time.

Brendan Shanahan.

The hard-working physical player who was born in Mimico, Ontario excelled in both lacrosse and hockey as a youngster, but when pressed to choose between the two, he chose to strap on the skates and give hockey a real go.  And for that, we are all privileged he did. 

"Shanny" as he is affectionately known around the league by teammates and competitors who respect the man immensely, had a great career with the London Knights of the OHL.  In his rookie year with the Knights he scored 62 points, including 28 goals, in 59 games.  In his last year with the Knights he tallied even bigger totals, 39 goals, 53 helpers, good for 92 points, and he also racked up 128 penalty minutes.  Shanahan was the second overall pick in the 1987 NHL entry draft, and joined the New Jersey Devils immediately, where he posted 26 points in his rookie year.  Despite having to leave the Knights after only two seasons, he made many friends and lasting relationships.  Not the least of which is Don Brankley, who recently retired as the London Knights trainer after 60 years.  Shanahan credits Brankley with helping him alot early in his career, often visited while playing in Detroit, and even bought his old trainer a truck, as a token of appreciation.

In 1991 he was signed to a contract by the St. Louis Blues.  However, as NHL rules stated he was still a restricted free agent at the time, and therefore the Blues would have to pay the Devils compensation.  Although they didn't want to part with Scott Stevens, whom they had signed also as an RFA from Washington, an arbitrator decided Stevens would be fine compensation, and so the deal was made, Brendan Shanahan was essentially traded for Scott Stevens.

Shanahan's first year with the Blues was good, but the spectacular play ramped up in his second season with the club.  Shanahan exploded for 51 goals, and 94 points in 71 games, while still showing a willingness to drop the mits, he compiled 174 penalty minutes.  He followed that up with a 102 point performance, including another 50 goal season (he ended up with 52.) He was recognized by the league, and it's fans by earning a trip to the All Star Game.

In July of 1995 Shanahan was traded to the Hartford Whalers in a blockbuster one-for-one deal which seen him sent to Hartford in exchange for Chris Pronger.  Shanahan really only played one season for Hartford, a 44 goal, 78 point outing.  Over the summer, with uncertainty of the franchise mounting, Shanahan asked for a trade.  Just two games into the 1996 regular season, he was shipped to Detroit along with Brian Glynn in exchange for Paul Coffey, Keith Primeau, and a first round draft choice.

Shanahan jumped into the Red and White and immediately continued where he left off.  He totalled 46 goals and 41 assists, good for 87 points, which earned him his third All Star birth. 

In the postseason Shanahan was a force, scoring nine goals, and eight assists, and also adding a physical presence and leadership, which helped Detroit capture their first Stanley Cup since 1955.  The very next season the Wings won the cup for a second straight year, but 1998 was the beginning of a slight tailspin for Shanahan.

In 1997-98 and 1998-99 he managed only 57 and 58 points respectively.  In the Wings second post season Stanley Cup run, he only managed 9 points in 20 games.  In 1998-99 he did manage to get another All Star Nod, but the disappointing season was capped off by a playoff defeat at the hands of rival Colorado Avalanche.

Shanahan reinvented himself and returned to old form in 1999-2000 tallying his usual 78 points. 

In 2002, The Canadian born winger had the best year of his career.  His NHL team, the Red Wings loaded up, adding Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Dominik Hasek in an attempt to regain Lord Stanley's mug.  He deposited 37 goals that season, and added 19 points in the post season, where the Wings, mostly untested, cruised to their third Stanley Cup in less than 10 years.

During February of that season, Shanahan had the honour of representing his country in the Salt Lake City Olympics, where his scoring touch and veteran presence was helpful in aiding Canada to a 5-2 victory of the USA in the Gold Medal Game.  It was Canada's first gold medal at the Olympic games in 50 years.  The all North American final produced four Wings players, Steve Yzerman, who was playing with Shanahan on team Canada, and Brett Hull and Chris Chelios, who were the opposition from the USA.

In the year before the lockout his play suffered dramatically.  He managed only 53 points, a career low.  He was honoured however, with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy.

During the lockout Shanahan kept busy by erecting a committee, dubbed by members of the media as the "Shanahan Summit."  The group consisted of players, coaches, and other important hockey figureheads.  The focus of the group was to improve the flow and tempo of the game; essentially, to open it up and make it a better game.

Once the league returned from a year long Lockout, Shanahan also came back with a vengeance.  Playing in all 82 games, he scored 41 goals, and added 40 assists, good for 81 points.

It was during that offseason Shanahan was at a crossroads in his career.  Despite it being his fourth team in his career, he called Detroit his home, had obtained an American Citizenship so he and his family could reside there, and was generally happy with the way things were going in the Motor City, both personally and professionally.

But he made a decision during that summer, something he referred to as a gut instinct.  He felt he was no longer being looked at as the future of Detroit, instead being regarded as it's past. 

On July 9th, 2006, Brendan Shanahan ended his Red Wings career, signing a one year, $4 million dollar deal with the New York Rangers.

In his first year with the Rangers he was named assistant captain, and scored 62 points in 67 games. 

October 5th, 2006 was the home opener for the Rangers.  For Shanahan it was special for a whole different reason.  Shanahan scored twice in that game, beating Washington's Olaf Kolzig.  The two goals he scored were the 599 and 600th of his career.  He is just one of 15 players to reach the 600 goal plateau.  Adding to his accomplishments that year, he was named Captain of the Eastern Conference All Star Team.

This season he managed 46 points (23g, 23a) in 73 games.  This brings his career totals to 1490 games played.  650 goals scored.  690 assists tallied.  1340 points.

And if that's how it should end, what a fine career, for a simple guy from Mimico.

So no matter what your team affiliation, no matter who you are deciding to back in the playoffs this year, no matter what happens tonight, if the New York Rangers lose, every hockey fan should stand up and cheer.  It could very well be the last time we see this great on the ice in his illustrious career.

And all of us hockey fans are better for having the chance to get to watch him play.


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