Taking a SHAW-t at Improving Team Identity

Andrew Shaw met with media in Montreal on July 6th. (Photo: Canadiens)

Andrew Shaw met with media in Montreal on July 6th. (Photo: Canadiens)

Therrien. Bergevin. Molson. Names as unpopular in Montreal these days as the name Bettman is perpetually across the league. Some say that Les Habitants have been mismanaged since Roy last backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup in 1993. Mere days away from having been outside of my lifetime, the Canadiens last lifted it, the one cup to rule them all. On the day of this year’s NHL entry draft, the Canadiens announced the trade of Eller to Washington and the acquisition of one Andrew Shaw. Three days later, Shaw signed a juicy six-year contract with an average annual value of $3.9 million. Some say that Bergevin appears to be moulding the team into material that Therrien can work with, because holding hands with Therrien at the Centre Bell seems more important to him than firing a coach infamous for ruining the confidence of prospects and forcing a dated system on a team put together with a different system in mind. Others see Weber, Radulov, and Shaw, and think of them as steps in the right direction for Montreal. At long last, meaningful steps toward improving the team. Say what you will about the quality of the moves made by Bergevin (which, incidentally, you really can’t objectively evaluate until you see the team next season), the man has courage. Today, just shy of the former Blackhawk’s 25th birthday, we look at the Andrew Shaw addition and try to understand the intentions behind the move.

(Photo: Canadiens)

(Photo: Canadiens)

Montreal, meet Andrew Shaw. 5’ 11”. 179 lbs. Small, feisty, and uncompromising, his style of play earned him the nickname “Mutt” among his former teammates in Chicago. Andrew Shaw came into the league swinging, earning both his first fighting major and his first NHL goal in his debut on January 5th, 2012. The Mutt’s strong work ethic and his commitment to his team rapidly developed the sturdy third-liner into a Chicago fan-favourite. Helping the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups (2013, 2015) certainly didn’t hurt, either. In 46 playoff games, split evenly between those two Stanley Cup-winning campaigns, the 139th overall pick of the 2011 entry draft netted a total of 10 goals and 11 assists (0.46 points per game), along with 71 penalty minutes. Interestingly, his playoff performance was a lot better in the two non-winning campaigns that he was a part of (2014, 2016): in 18 playoff games (12, 6) he was able to combine for 6 goals and 8 assists (0.78 points per game), while racking up 30 penalty minutes. The 2016 campaign was performance-wise the most successful of his career, netting 6 points in 6 games (4 G, 2 A). His career playoff totals, for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, are: 67 games played, 16 goals, 19 assists, 116 penalty minutes. Whether you did the math or not, we both know that Andrew Shaw is not a purebred goalscorer. Luckily, that’s also not what he’s paid to do.

So what is he paid to do? What is it about Shaw that convinced the Canadiens’ management to pay him $23.4 million over the next six years ($3.9 million AAV)? Is management attempting to appeal to fans by adding a fan-favourite, a Gallagher-esque battle horse with Stanley Cup experience? Are they adding a character piece primarily, and a third-liner second? In all likelihood, the answer to those two questions is yes. Bergevin and Molson are not stupid. They can’t possibly believe that adding Shaw alone makes the Canadiens cup contenders. Shaw’s success was a product of good coaching (*cough* Therrien *cough*) and a solid Blackhawks team around him. He was not the one piece of the puzzle that made it all happen. No singular player can do that. Not even Carey Price, the boy who lived, the chosen one, can drag a mismanaged, poorly led team to a cup. This is not to say that Shaw is not a valuable acquisition, nor am I implying that he did not play a crucial role in the Blackhawk’s cup successes. What I am saying is that adding a good puzzle piece to an incomplete puzzle can not complete the puzzle, no matter how good of a piece it may be.

In the grand scheme of things, can you smell what the Berg’ is cookin’?

Take a team that lacks scoring, power-play execution, character, responsibility, and true leadership – weaknesses exposed as soon as Carey Price was off of the ice (the one good thing about last season?).

Then, add:

Leadership, responsibility, power-play savvy: Shea Weber, a natural leader, a solid defensive player with a knack for power play success (love for Subban aside, questionable contract aside – that’s a problem for another GM, if this backfires).

Leadership, goal-scoring: Alexander Radulov, a formerly immature Russian super-talent who, in recent years, has shown true leadership skills in the KHL, along with incredible goal-scoring talent. Arguably the best move made during Free Agent Frenzy 2016.

Character, work-ethic, and some bonus Stanley Cup experience: Andrew Shaw, two-time Stanley Cup champion, a player with grit and character the likes of Brendan Gallagher – you cannot possibly go wrong with a man like this (again, potentially questionable contract aside).

A likeable coach with proven power play know-how: Kirk Muller, a great addition to the coaching staff – more charismatic than Therrien, popular with players and fans alike, and a gifted power-play coach. Not hired as just any old assistant, he joins as an associate. Some say he may in fact be Therrien’s replacement at some point down the line.

Maybe Bergevin’s love for Therrien has blinded him to his coach’s flaws, but perhaps it has not hindered his managerial prowess. Andrew Shaw is not the magical last piece to the shattered puzzle that was the 2015-2016 Montreal Canadiens. I don’t think Bergevin wants him to be. A six-year contract for Shaw has me hoping that the summer of 2016 is the beginning of a committed, prolonged attempt to improve and alter the team’s identity.

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One Response to Taking a SHAW-t at Improving Team Identity

  1. We wouldn’t be in this mess about “Team Character” if Bergevin wasn’t busy trying to find the next great 4th liner Therrien could play on the 1st line. Too many trades and signings of guys with clearly one thing in common – can’t score for the life of them. Match that feature up with a Head Coach who doesn’t believe in Team Chemistry one bit. Players and “Lines” can take a little time to blend together and gain confidence as a group. When you have a hair trigger coach who breaks up the line after your 1st shift because you didn’t score there are going to be a confidence crisis. Players start playing differently by pressing each time they get the puck. It’s been shown over time that the more Therrien tears the lines apart the play becomes more scattered and less effective. Usually the first line is left in tact but there are occasions when he believes it’s truly important to bring a Dale Weise type up from the 4th line to add scoring touch to the line.

    Bottom line this team plays better on their own then with MT misdirecting it. I truly hope that Kirk Muller has much more control of the Offensive Game Plan and not just the PowerPlay. If we have to resort to that Zone Exit Strategy of “attempting” to ice the puck it’s going to be a long season. It won’t take long for that to grate on all of our new additions and they will truly be wondering what possessed them to sign in Montreal.

    Truly, the less control Therrien has and the more that Muller holds will benefit this team in the end.

    Ned Stark July 22, 2016 at 4:22 am Reply

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