After a divisive trade at the NHL Draft several seasons ago, Andrew Shaw finally entered into the role many fans were expecting when he arrived from Chicago. He was physical, brought solid offensive numbers, and kept himself on the ice instead of in the box or suspended.
With 19 goals and 47 points, it was far and away Shaw’s best season in the NHL, and he was a driving force on a resurgent Montreal club that was supposed to finish near the bottom. The team clearly played more effectively when he was in the lineup, but after missing 19 games this year due to injury, there’s a lingering concern given his concussion history.
With a sudden influx of prospects coming into the forward group, there is always the chance to move Shaw to get the necessary help on defence, but unless the proper deal comes along, Montreal should stand pat. Shaw’s value goes beyond just points, and his partnership with Max Domi was crucial to the Montreal Canadiens’ success this year.
With Shaw on the ice, the Canadiens’ attack is highly formidable, owning the slot and high-danger areas around the net. All of which makes sense given his propensity for mucking it up in front of goalies and creating havoc in all situations.
The shots are coming fast and furious from the slot with Shaw on the ice, and the goals actually followed too, meaning he was converting as expected on many of his chances. According to Sean Tierney’s numbers, Shaw had an expected-goal count (xG) of 18.23 based on his shot locations and number of shots. Shaw finished the season with 19 goals, right in line with what his play predicted.
Given Montreal’s number of playmaking forwards on the team, having someone get into the dirty areas to finish off plays is crucial. Often playing with Domi and Jonathan Drouin, Shaw filled that role. The trio put together a solid attack in the offensive zone, but in spite of their chemistry, they were struggling to tread water in the defensive half of the ice.
However, this doesn’t all fall on Shaw’s shoulders. The partnership with Domi improved exponentially when Drouin moved away from them.
If Shaw’s numbers looked good with both Drouin and Domi, they’re beyond elite with Drouin removed from the equation. Much like the trio of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, and Tomas Tatar, his partnership with Domi is one that will be difficult for a coaching staff to abandon.
Most of these minutes are coming against other top-six competition; not exactly an easy role to play in and generate offence. All of these factors play into one conclusion — trading Andrew Shaw without a slam-dunk return could seriously bite the Canadiens.
Such a slam dunk could be an immediate upgrade on the left side of their defence with someone who can play top-four minutes. Two names that immediately jump out in that circumstance are T.J. Brodie and Shayne Gostisbehere. Brodie has been mentioned to be on the move several times this off-season, with Montreal being a very good landing point for the defender, while Gostisbehere had his name pop up very recently.
While Shaw was not mentioned explicitly in a potential trade for Brodie, he was named directly in the Gostisbehere rumours, and given the status of both players, it could make sense that he would have interest from the Flames as well. Both players can instantly step into a top-pairing role alongside Shea Weber, and allow Victor Mete to slide down the lineup. Even if they chose to slot their new acquisition next to Jeff Petry, the top four on defence in Montreal would instantly be upgraded.
Both players reduce incoming shots on their goaltenders, do so in a defined top-four role, and can bring some offensive production overall, which should make them high-priority targets with Shaw as the focal piece in return.
While Gostisbehere’s chart isn’t nearly as impressive as Brodie’s, it’s worth noting that Brodie had the benefit of playing with Norris candidate Mark Giordano, while Gostisbehere had to lug around Robert Hagg and Andrew MacDonald for parts of the season.
This isn’t to say a deal is imminent, or that one might even happen, but if the Canadiens were to move on from Shaw they need to make sure they’re landing someone who can replace his value in the lineup.
It took a while, but the best version of Shaw came to play last season, and if this is closer to what he can be when healthy, Montreal should not be pulling the trigger on any deals unless they’re landing a piece to fix one of their roster’s biggest flaws.