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Shanahan a Jersey guy 18 years later

by Chuck Gormley
When Brendan Shanahan last played for the New Jersey Devils, cars did not come equipped with airbags; there was no such thing as a web browser; and Boyz II Men were still boys.

The year was 1991, when the Devils wore green, red and white and Travis Zajac was learning the alphabet in kindergarten.

Some North Jersey diehards still argue that Shanahan was the most productive player in Devils history. After all, his free-agent signing with the St. Louis Blues resulted in Scott Stevens as compensation, and the gritty defenseman went on to captain the Devils to three Stanley Cups.

(History buffs may recall the Blues offered the Devils Rod Brind'Amour and Curtis Joseph, along with future draft picks, as compensation for Shanahan, but Lou Lamoriello turned them down and demanded Stevens).

Today, after winning three Stanley Cups of his own in nine years with the Detroit Red Wings, Shanahan is back with the team that made him the second pick of the 1987 Entry Draft. One week shy of his 40th birthday, Shanahan signed a one-year deal with the Devils last week and is expected to be in uniform this week when the Devils take on Nashville and Montreal before breaking for the NHL All-Star Game.

"I'm grateful. I was Lou's first ever draft pick," Shanahan said of Lamoriello, who selected him one pick behind Pierre Turgeon in his rookie season as Devils' general manager. "I'm not looking at this in such grand terms of going full circle. I just hope to add to their team and help their team."

In a perfect world devoid of salary caps, Shanahan probably would have ended his career a New York Ranger. That is where he intended to sign over the summer and where he hoped to sign through the first several weeks of this season.
But when the Rangers retooled over the summer with the additions of left wings Markus Naslund and Aaron Voros, Shanahan was the odd-man out, even though he was told there was room for him to return to Broadway.

When October became November and the Rangers weren’t calling, Shanahan reluctantly decided to begin listening to offers from other NHL teams.

"I had no desire to leave my team, but it didn’t work out," Shanahan said. "That's how it goes sometimes in a salary-cap business. I had two great years there. November 1st I said it wasn’t going to work out with the Rangers."

For most of November and December, Shanahan and his agent, Rick Curran, fielded inquiries from as many as a dozen NHL teams. The greatest interest came from Chicago and St. Louis in the West, and Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Jersey in the East.

"Brendan waited patiently for one of the three or four teams that had expressed the most interest, but had held back because of cap problems," Curran explained. "He thought on more than one occasion there would be a breakthrough and he was a little disappointed things did not evolve because of cap issues. That’s when he reached a point where he said, ‘Hey, I want to play."

That point came in the first week of January, when Shanahan narrowed his choices down to two teams just 90 miles apart – the Devils and Flyers. Shanahan’s relationship with Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren dates back nearly as long the one he has with Lamoriello. Holmgren coached Shanahan when both were with the Hartford Whalers during the 1995-96 season.

"I had very good communications with Paul Holmgren," Shanahan said. "(The Flyers) always had interest and I appreciate that."

When Shanahan woke up Saturday, Jan. 10, he decided it would be best for his wife and their three children, all under the age of 6, if they remained in their New York City home.

"I had some great offers from some very good organizations," Shanahan said. "I didn’t want to move my family. … My first choice was to do something close to home. So I feel real fortunate."

The Devils should feel Shanahan's presence most on the power play, where they have struggled all season. Entering weekend games against Columbus and the Islanders, the Devils ranked 15th in the NHL on the man-advantage.

"I'm not looking at this in such grand terms of going full circle. I just hope to add to their team and help their team." -- Brendan Shanahan on his return to the Devils
Shanahan ranks first among active players with 235 career power-play goals, sixth on the NHL's all-time list behind Dave Andreychuk, Brett Hull, Phil Esposito, Luc Robitaille and Mario Lemieux.

Lamoriello acknowledged that Shanahan’s power-play prowess is a big reason he is a Devil again.

"I think the overall specialty teams’ success – or lack of success – at a given time, in my mind, was the impetus to coming to this conclusion. In our minds, Brendan can be a full-time player. It’s no different than any other player. They determine the ice time that they get. He’s not being signed just to play on power plays, or just to play the penalty kill. We feel he can come and help this team be better and have more success."

With Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston and Jay Pandolfo patrolling the left wing for the Devils, coach Brent Sutter will need to find ice time for Shanahan and his 650 career goals.

There is a strong possibility Shanahan could end up on a line with center Bobby Holik, another former Devil who played in Manhattan before returning to the team that drafted him.

"It’s not strange at all," Devils right wing Brian Gionta said. "That's what this business is all about. It’s constantly guys going against guys they’ve played against."

The big question facing Shanahan and the Devils is whether the soon-to-40-year-old native of Mimico, Ontario, can still be effective after eight months of inactivity.

Shanahan had 23 goals for the Rangers last year – 11 of them on the power play. It marked the 19th straight season he has netted 20 or more goals, but he also missed 10 games with a knee sprain and his 46 points were his lowest non-lockout point totals since his rookie season in 1987-88.

"I think I was a pretty strong and effective player for the Rangers," Shanahan said. "The injury I had set me back. I continued to play on it because we were in the playoff race and I felt each game was critical to making the playoffs."

Shanahan said his time away from the game might actually work to his benefit. He has worked out harder this year than at any time in his career and has kept his skating legs by practicing with the Harvard University hockey team.

"I feel strong, but at the same time I feel very rested," he said. "I felt and hoped that any week (signing a contract) could happen with any team and I wanted to be ready."

"I’ve always believed age is a number,” Lamoriello said. "He’s always been a player who took care of himself. At this time of year he will not be rushed into anything. I do not feel (age) is a factor.  … He knows what it takes to win. He’s won Stanley Cups."

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