Andrew Shaw has long been talked about more for the emotion he brings to the ice than for the play he creates on it.
When news broke of his trade to Montreal this off-season, his previous coach, Joel Quenneville mentioned missing Shaw’s versatility, that his “intangibles jump off the page.” Even before the trade, at the end of Chicago’s playoff run last season, Quenneville called Andrew Shaw an “irreplaceable” player, citing “his competitiveness, his willingness to find the dirty areas” and “the feistiness [...] he brings to every game.” Shaw’s former teammate, Jonathan Toews, made sure to mention Shaw’s “great presence in the room,” as well as his “energy, “always excited to be at the rink.”
Marc Bergevin, for his part, was looking for a certain type of player. It’s no secret the Habs’ general manager is a fan of intangibles like character and chemistry. It’s also no secret as well that championships are not won with intangibles alone. As with most things, there needs to be a balance; in this case, Bergevin was looking for a balance between what Shaw could bring to his team both as a teammate and as a player.
On the ice, Shaw has come as advertised. His CF% at even strength has remained consistent throughout his career, never dropping below 51.4 (2015-16) and sitting at a an excellent 54.84% through 52 games with the Canadiens this season, good for first overall on the team among all regular players.
His CF%rel, also at even strength, has shown a reasonably steady incline throughout his career and is currently sitting at 3.7 with the Habs, ranking him first on the team by that metric among all Canadiens forwards.
And, for what it’s worth, after all the talk this season about how the Canadiens have struggled in the faceoff dot, Shaw has won 55.1% of faceoffs taken, the best on the team of anyone with more than 10 faceoffs. His points per 60 looks reasonable considering his deployment, at 1.42.
We all started this season with a preconceived notion of Shaw. Not only was he coming off last post-season’s events, he was given a big contract right out of the gate and he started the pre-season with a full head of steam.
We hear often how the energy of the Bell Centre can pump a player up and give him an extra bounce in his skating stride. Players feed off that energy in different ways and for a player known to be working on controlling himself and his emotions on the ice, the hockey-crazed atmosphere in which the Montreal Canadiens spend half their season presents a unique challenge.
Shaw began his career as a Canadien by taking a pre-season suspension. There was much hand-wringing and worrying that this would be a trend. As the season began, Shaw reportedly had a conversation with Stephane Quintal, an “educational meeting” presumably designed to help the young forward learn to toe the line more effectively.
It worked. For the first few weeks of the 2016-17 season, we watched a tentative Andrew Shaw try to find his footing in the bright spotlight in Montreal. And we wanted more. We wanted what we had seen Shaw accomplish in Chicago. We wanted him to be the effective pest we know he can be. For all the dread the phrase invokes, with his high energy and fearlessness, Shaw can be a useful piece in making the Canadiens tough to play against.
Since Claude Julien’s return, Shaw seems to have found himself a permanent home next to Tomas Plekanec and the match seems to be a good one. Shaw has been relentless on the puck, using his speed and his edge in positive ways. He was one of only four goal scorers for the Canadiens in the month of February.
Andrew Shaw’s job is to walk a fine line. Be aggressive but not too aggressive.
Be emotional but not too emotional.
He’s still searching to find that balance in the pressure-cooker of hockey-focused market with a “win now” mentality, more often than not finding the right side of that edge these days. Of course Shaw is on the radar of every NHL ref. He will almost never get the benefit of the doubt when a call could go either way. But the optics of smashing his stick in frustration or taking an untimely penalty or two can make us overlook the valuable contributions he brings to this hockey club on a nightly basis.