When the Blackhawks last employed Andrew Shaw, he was The Mutt who loved shin pads.
Back with the team with which he helped win Stanley Cups in 2013 and '15 thanks to a trade with the Canadiens on Sunday, Shaw said he returns more mature as both a man and a player but that he still has the same bulldog mentality that endeared him to Blackhawks fans-and the organization's hierarchy-during his five seasons with the team.
"I think as a man I've matured more and know what it takes to be even a better pro than I've been in the past," Shaw said on a conference call not long after the Blackhawks acquired the 27-year-old along with a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft in exchange for second- and seventh-round selections in 2020 and a third-round pick in 2021. "I had some success at working hard and competing (with) that mindset of never giving up, not letting people put you down and just pushing through physical (and) mental exhaustion or pain."
After the Blackhawks sent Shaw to the Canadiens during the summer of 2016 in a salary-cap dump, the Belleville, Ontario native scored 41 goals and added 55 assists in 182 regular-season games spanning three seasons, including career-highs in assists (28) and points (47) during the 2018-19 season.
Much like he did during his first stint with the Blackhawks from 2012-16, Shaw formed close relationships with Canadiens players and he said, "there are some sad feelings" in leaving.
"It's always tough to leave a group of guys in a locker room like that. You create these relationships over the years. You had a lot of fun and you got all of these memories then you're not going to see these guys on a day-to-day basis and that's very sad.
"On the other side of it, I'm excited to come back to Chicago," Shaw continued. "(It is) a city where I grew up, it helped mold me to what I am, it's a blue-collar type of town. They've loved me since the day I started there so I'm excited to get back and play in front of them and give them everything I have."
Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman is hoping as much, pulling the trigger on the trade on the eve of the opening of free agency. Bowman said Shaw's tenacity and ability to go to the net should have a positive impact.
"(Shaw) won't be denied," Bowman said. "He's a fearless player (and)…he plays much bigger than his actual size (5'11", 182 lbs). He's got an underrated skillset. When people talk about Shaw, they always talk about his intensity and competitiveness but he does go to the net and he scores a lot of goals from in tight and he gets a lot of shots from around the net and that's where you need to be if you want to score in today's game.
"It's something we probably weren't as strong at last year as we has hoped," Bowman added. "We did score a lot of highlight-type goals and a lot of transition goals and I think Andrew can help us score some of the other goals that you need to if you're going to be competitive come playoff time. That's getting to the front of the net, staying there, second-chance opportunities, screens, those types of things."
Bowman said a conversation with coach Jeremy Colliton following last season led them wanting to acquire players who can play both center and wing, something with which Shaw-who is also a coveted right-handed shot-is capable.
"We're not looking just for four centermen," Bowman said. "We're hoping to get six, seven-even if you can get eight-guys who can play center (then) you have so many more options during a game. Andrew can take faceoffs. He's sort of the ultimate versatile player. Those things all went into the decision."
Also factoring in the decision is Shaw's contract, which carries an AAV of $3.9 million and is signed through the '21-22 season. At today's prices, that can be considered fair market value for a player who can play anywhere in the lineup and brings the intensity and experience of Shaw.
"The cost certainty of someone like Shaw is appealing and when we moved him three years ago it was simply due to the salary cap - it was nothing to do with Andrew as a player," Bowman said. "We've always loved what he brought to the table and we're thrilled he's back. Our team was in a different state financially at that time and…his contract, which was a challenge for us years ago, is actually quite attractive now."
After missing significant time last season with a neck injury, Shaw said he is healthy and raring to go.
"I didn't take much time off this year because the body felt pretty good," he said. "I'm excited for the year to start and I'm going to push myself all summer to make sure I'm ready for it.
"I look forward to coming and working and competing," Shaw added. "I'm that type of guy who has always worked for what I've gotten and I'm not going to change today. I just have to go in and work hard and do what I can to help the team have success."
Shaw was on a plane on the runway in Chicago preparing to take off for Toronto after spending a week in town visiting his brother when he got a call from Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin informing him of the trade.
"I got up in the air and the phone was off and (when I) landed I had e-mails, messages, everything," Shaw said. "My phone blew up."
Included in the messages were several from former-and now current-Blackhawks teammates.
"It's nice to hear from the boys and know that they're excited to have me back," Shaw said. "It's been a crazy journey but I'm excited to keep pushing forward and going to war every night with those guys."