As sports fans, we make light of professional sports cliches more often than not. It's hard for us to take players and coaches seriously when everyone involved is repeating the same message of "getting the puck to the net," "battling harder," etc. Of course with any physical sport comes the overused "toughness" and "grit" that a player is conveniently missing every time they're in a scoring slump. It's tough for us to see these games the same way our favorite players do because in our heart of hearts, we're not experiencing the game in the way they are. We know these adages mean almost nothing in deciding who wins and loses because of our perspective.
When it comes to the Blackhawks and Andrew Shaw, that fact becomes all the more frustrating.
In light of a recent report making note that the Blackhawks could throw in Teuvo Teravainen to trade Bryan Bickell as part of an effort to retain Shaw, it begs questions about exactly what the current regime in Chicago prioritizes. Bickell has been a dead weight for the Hawks for awhile now, really hamstringing several offseasons, but this most recent report of throwing in Teravainen into a potential Bickell trade in order to potentially re-sign Shaw at a high price (while also signing an older defenseman) draws serious notice of a flawed thought process. Even if you take the rumors with a grain of salt -- which you should -- the scenario brings up some interesting questions about the Hawks' identity as a team.
What the Hawks see in Shaw
Shaw's five seasons haven't come without accolades. After all, how many guys can say they've won two Stanley Cups, played in three Western Conference Finals and been a key cog role player for a legendary hockey team? Shaw's ascended into one of the more useful utility players in the league in which the Hawks trust him in most roles (for better or worse).
For a bottom six talent, he has decent hands, solid knowledge of positioning and is excellent on the forecheck even despite all of his tiny stature at 5'10, 180 pounds. It's why Shaw is able to bounce up and down the lineup whether fans and pundits like it. If there's an injury to a top skilled player, he's ready to fill in admirably and more often than not has surprisingly accomplished the job well like some small energetic Canadian army knife.
Ah yes, the glowing "energy" and "grit," something the Blackhawks never stop raving about with Shaw. It supposedly galvanizes the team when he's on the ice giving it his "all" (it's kind of nauseating to write this) so in turn you feel like you can't let your teammate down. We've heard it enough for five years as Shaw's celebrity spotlight in the Chicago hockey community has grown.
At his best, Shaw becomes a player that channels that temperament and offers excellent depth on the back end to a team anchored by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Co.
Look no further than this year's first-round loss to the Blues.
The 24-year-old was arguably Chicago's most consistent forward in the seven-game series with four goals and two assists. He was a consistent force on both ends of the ice on whichever line he appeared, showcasing his value as one of the best depth players in the league when everything is running on all cylinders.
While there are players in the Hawks' system like Ryan Hartman who could potentially replace what Shaw does, given he is a less skilled player, it doesn't mean there isn't reason to be high on what he offers with his own ability. At the right price, Shaw is an asset, there's no doubt.
Replaceable for a reason
Yet on the other end, you have a guy that sometimes takes unnecessary penalties at the most inopportune moments in which it would be nice to describe him as anything less than a volatile personality. For all of the love the front office, coaching staff, and team affords him, even they would be hard pressed to not admit his more often than not occasional hot headedness on the ice doesn't become irritating at times.
While he was ultimately completely remorseful, you saw the worst of Shaw in the same consistent Blues series in a Game 4 meltdown for example.
Shaw took an effective late game ending penalty and followed it up with a homophobic slur for which he was disciplined by the league. The Blackhawks would win the next game to extend their season in spite of Shaw's reckless antics putting his team at a disadvantage without him, but the Hawks relentlessly supported him regardless despite his previous trends.
This isn't even mentioning that Shaw's services, while very useful as mentioned, aren't really all that special.
Yes he has decent hands, offers "energy," and has solid positioning but none of that is anywhere close to the value of the kind of creative playmaking a higher skilled player like Teuvo offers. Guys like Teuvo can make passes, plays, and see the ice like Shaw can only dream of, but yet we're stuck in this seemingly never ending trust nightmare.
Still, unless they're posturing for trade value, the Hawks clearly still want Shaw around, flaws and all.
The concern over direction
It's worth noting that the Hawks possibly overvalue Shaw so much because they don't think they have enough players like him. Players like him meaning guys that offer those cliches of physicality and such.
We've long noted and made fun of the notion of "HITS" but it's so evident teams like the Hawks take it more seriously than they should. The problem's only been exacerbated given recent roster reform too.
While Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and even Bickell when he was still producing, weren't typical goons or guys with prototypical size (save for Bickell), these were players above 6'0 with a little more girth above 200 pounds. They could really work the puck on the forecheck and cycle it well, and offered the Hawks a lot of versatility in play style.
I hate to make the argument that Chicago missed them because they took away from a physical factor because of everything I've argued for in the past, but you can't help but notice the effect it had on guys like Toews, for example.
Toews is at his best when he has two reliable wings who can win the puck for him and help cycle it along like Saad, Sharp and even Bickell once did once upon a time. There's no doubt it affected his overall performance this season as the Hawks never really did find a suitable fit in the top left wing spot. Shaw played there in spurts, but his overall numbers were more or less enhanced by the fact that he was playing with Toews and Marian Hossa instead of offering consistent support his line mates needed.
For everything that Shaw couldn't do as the first left wing, it still spoke volumes of the Hawks' faith in him to allow him the opportunity. After all, a team roster of skilled more deft players like Artemi Panarin, Teuvo, Kane, Marcus Kruger, etc. may actually be ill equipped without someone like Shaw. Artem Anisimov helps mitigate the gap with all of his 6'4 frame, but in their short sighted minds it's not enough.
I don't know why, though, because none of the Quenneville-era Hawks teams have won in that physical fashion. They are all teams that dominated the puck with speed and possession. They would be out hit and teams would punish them because the opposition never had control. Yet because of recent roster mistakes and fill-ins, the Hawks want to move away from players that help that facet along?
No matter how misguided the notion is, Chicago likely values Shaw more because of what they've lost, but this could become a detriment in the end.
A franchise crossroads
When it comes down to it, you can't help but begin to lament the Blackhawks' moves in the past year and how they potentially jeopardize the near contending future.
Completely misplaying the Brandon Saad situation and losing a budding 22-year-old star, which still has ramifications on the roster.
Basically all of the Patrick Sharp trade, but especially giving away Trevor Daley for basically nothing instead of keeping and finding a way to fit him on a team that could have used another defenseman immensely.
Signing an older Brent Seabrook to a long-term contract with a no movement clause setting yourself up for a steep decline in performance in a few years while already really tight to the salary cap.
Needless to say, while some of these outcomes are in hindsight, the last year has harmed the Blackhawks' future Cup chances much more than restored my faith. But there's still hope.
Don't trade a potential creative star player in Teuvo just to get rid of Bickell just to sign Shaw to huge money and long term, no matter how irreplaceable you think he is and even if it nets you a 36-year-old defenseman in Brian Campbell (That's a separate idea). I am a fan of Campbell, but even his defensive upgrade isn't worth trading a young Teuvo for. That's just counter productive.
Bottom line, no third or fourth line player is that important. The simple ideal to just trade Shaw's rights is staring you right in the face and almost makes too much sense. The Blackhawks have created championship rosters by building around cost controlled talents like Teuvo and then later adding guys like Shaw after the fact to plug the holes, not the other way around.
The Blackhawks may think they're on the verge of keeping a core player, but they're actually on the verge of something much more drastic: an identity crisis of sorts.
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.