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Brendan Shanahan of the Detroit Red Wings. (Dave Sandford/2006 Getty Images)
Brendan Shanahan of the Detroit Red Wings. (Dave Sandford/2006 Getty Images)

Eric Duhatschek

Shanahan more than just a premier power forward Add to ...

The numbers tell a story of one of the most effective power forwards of his era, but really, they only tell the beginning of the story.

When Brendan Shanahan made his retirement official Tuesday, he went into the NHL history books No. 11 in all-time goals (656) and No. 23 in all-time points (1,354) - credentials usually associated with a first ballot Hall Of Fame player.

But Shanahan's influence was felt around the NHL for more than just his on-ice contributions. He was an innovator off the ice, an articulate well-spoken voice of his generation, which happened to coincide with the NHL's dead-puck era, when goal-scoring dropped off a cliff and gridlock gripped the sport, thanks in part to a style of play adapted by his first and last NHL teams, the clutch-and-grab New Jersey Devils.

So in 2004-05, with the league and the players' association locked in a bitter labour dispute mostly involving finances, Shanahan proposed that the two sides should also address the issue of the on-ice product as well.

Time and again in the years prior to the lockout, the league had attempted to wean obstruction out of the game - the hooking, holding and interference that had slowed the game immeasurably over time. The so-called "Shanahan Summit" resulted in some direct rule changes and more importantly, in a renewed vigour by the officiating department to enforce rules already on the books.

As a result, the game became faster, better, more entertaining. Without the changes put into place by Shanahan's group, it is unlikely that the league would have adopted a competition committee, which gave players much needed input into the direction the game was going. It never made any sense that the league would change rules without consulting the people it most affected - the players, who were also the ones at ice level, and therefore had the best perspective on what was working, and what didn't.

Nor is it likely that Generation Next - from Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby to Steve Stamkos and John Tavares - would have adapted so readily to the bump-and-grind of NHL hockey without the changes, adopted post-lockout that made it easier for a generation of young and skilled players to make a seamless adjustment to the league.

As his career moved along, Shanahan was one of the few players willing to buck the Pollyanna flow and actually say what was on his mind - to his ever-lasting credit. He will be missed, not just by the scribblers who enjoyed crowding around his locker to exchange views about the state of the game, but by anyone who could appreciate his rare combination of skill and physicality.

Shanahan was the second player chosen overall in the 1987 entry draft, behind Pierre Turgeon; and the last one remaining from that draft class. The only player who exceeded his career accomplishments from that class was Joe Sakic. Sakic retired prior to the start of the season; Shanahan had one more go at it with the Devils, the team that selected him originally, attending their 2009 training camp. But when he and the organization couldn't agree on what his role might be for the upcoming season, they put him on waivers - and he was effectively in limbo until today's announcement.

Shanahan was involved in a couple of the biggest deals in NHL history. In 1991, he signed with the St. Louis Blues as a restricted free agent, bucking a long-established trend of NHL teams keeping their hands off other club's free agents.

The Devils eventually received as compensation future Hall Of Famer Scott Stevens. In 1995, Blues' general manager Mike Keenan traded Shanahan to Hartford in exchange for Chris Pronger. Apart from Brett Hull, Shanahan might have been the Blues most popular player at the time.

Shanahan was never a good fit in Hartford, so after one year there, was swapped to Detroit for three players including another future Hall Of Famer, Paul Coffey. With the Red Wings, Shanahan won three Stanley Cups.

Shanahan's 19 consecutive years of scoring 20 goals or more was eclipsed only by former Red Wing Gordie Howe. Shanahan also enjoyed one other curious distinction. He recorded more Gordie Howe hat tricks - a goal, an assist and a fight in the same night - than any player in history, with 17.

By retiring now, Shanahan will be free to go to Vancouver in 2010 for the Winter Olympics, where he will be one of only 22 players to be honoured in the IIHF's Triple Gold Club - winners of the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a world championship.

With the leadership void currently in place at the NHL players association, one wonders if Shanahan would be a candidate to step in - if not as executive director, then in some unspecified advisory capacity, as the union tries to rebuild itself in preparation for the next CBA struggle. Normally, these sorts of retirement announcements come from the players association, not the league. Not sure what, if anything, to read into the fact - other than to guess that, like a lot of relationships involving that fractured union, there probably needs to be a fence or two mended there too somewhere along the way.

 

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