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What should the Montreal Canadiens do when Andrew Shaw is healthy?

It is unlikely the forward is ready to start the season, which provides the Canadiens with options.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Shaw will likely miss the first part of the 2018-19 regular season after undergoing knee surgery in late April that was expected to keep him out six months, which would mean the end of October.

In a crowded Canadiens forward group, that could be either a blessing or a curse.

The injuries to Shaw and Paul Byron open up two spots in the lineup for players, with Nikita Scherbak, Matthew Peca, Jacob de la Rose, Nicolas Deslauriers, and others battling for spots. The fact that these players will get a shot to impress can be a double-edged sword for Shaw when he returns.

They could either solidify spots in the Canadiens’ top nine, leaving the Canadiens in a position where they have to find room for Shaw, or they can prove definitively that they are not the answer, and Shaw can reclaim his spot rather easily.

Like many members of the Canadiens, Shaw had a 2017-18 season to forget. He battled injuries and only played in 51 games, scoring 10 goals and adding 10 assists. That was down from 68 games in 2016-17 with 12 goals and 17 assists.

On a per-game basis, his production was pretty constant, but he did see a dropoff in most of the underlying metrics as he scored more on the power play and less at even strength. That isn’t to say it’s necessarily a bad thing, because Shaw was legitimately great in 2016-17.

Andrew Shaw 2017-18 vs 2016-17
Bill Comeau

Looking at the two charts, the calibre of players that Shaw played with and against did not change too much. But the role he was asked to play did change. He spent the majority of his 2017-18 season playing with Phillip Danault and Max Pacioretty. In 2016-17, the line he played the most time with, believe it or not, was at centre between Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen.

I do not think that Shaw is as bad as he showed in the 2017-18 season, but I don’t think he is as good as he was in the 2016-17 season. The truth is pretty much in between. Shaw is a perfectly fine middle-six player who can be a complementary piece on an offensive line, or a defensive line. He’s flexible, and that is a good thing.

With the depth at wing that the Canadiens have, it is entirely possible that Shaw’s greatest asset is his ability to play centre. Marc Bergevin is on record saying that in a perfect world, Jonathan Drouin would not be a centre. So if (when?) the team trades Max Pacioretty, they can slot Drouin into the first-line LW spot and give Shaw a C spot.

If, as I alluded to above, it’s impossible to shift guys like Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak, or others due to the way they are playing, Shaw can provide an upgrade at centre, especially if the team trades Tomas Plekanec at the deadline or injuries hit hard. It is also entirely possible that no one will stake a claim to a top-nine role, which would then mean that Shaw would be a welcome addition.

Even then, Shaw would have to get back to a high level or he could find himself falling behind. Shaw is only 27 years old, but his injury history is concerning. The important thing will be for him to get healthy, stay healthy, and contribute after that.

Shaw still has a spot on this team. What that spot is will depend in part on what happens while he sits out.