Scott Hannan’s second tour of duty with the San Jose Sharks followed a somewhat coincidental path like when he first broke in with the club more than a decade ago.
At age 22 and three years removed from being selected 23rd overall in the 1997 Entry Draft, Hannan debuted with a veteran team and instantly made an impact.
A native of the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, Hannan averaged more than 19 minutes in 75 appearances for a team that won 40 games for the first time in franchise history.
Hannan was instantly a regular in the lineup, secure in his role and trusted by teammates.
Fast forward to the most recent trade deadline when Hannan was reacquired from the Nashville Predators. This familiar face was back in comfortable surroundings. Now, he was expected to add defensive depth on a successful team with playoff ambitions.
Once Hannan recovered from a late-season injury sustained in Nashville, he jumped into the San Jose lineup. He’s a trusted defender who knows his role. He’s a proven performer who knows how to make the right play.
Hannan has come home again. And the Sharks are happy to have him.
“It feels good,” Hannan said. “It’s obviously nice to go back to a place where you’re comfortable.”
“(Executive Vice President and General Manager) Doug (Wilson) knew him and was around him a lot early in his career,” Development Coach Mike Ricci said. “He knew what he had down deep in him. This is a great place to play, too. We all fall in love with it. He probably liked everywhere else he played, but probably deep down he felt at home here.”
This is where Hannan got an early taste of the National Hockey League with five games during the 1998-99 season at age 20 before returning to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. This is where he scored his first NHL goal during a 30-game stint with San Jose in 1999-2000 when he spent most of his first full professional season with Kentucky of the American Hockey League.
This is where Hannan appeared in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game. Starting with a single game played in the 1999-2000 postseason, Hannan has seen playoff action in 10 of his 15 NHL seasons.
This is where he met his wife. This is where Hannan established himself as a shutdown defenseman, displaying the ability to neutralize the top-line talent of opponents on a nightly basis.
And this is where he’s doing it all over again.
“After Cranky left, we felt we needed a veteran presence – somebody who could give us some depth,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said of a deadline deal that sent physical defenseman Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh.
“But as injuries occurred, he earned the opportunity to play and played extremely well.”
“He brings experience, we can plug him into different situations,” Associate Coach and Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson said. “He’s strong, physical, willing to block shots and get into shooting lanes. He’s a decent puck mover and he has played some big minutes for us.”
Hannan also found chemistry again with Brad Stuart, another defenseman who was originally drafted, developed and thrust into the NHL by the Sharks. Stuart, 33, returned this last season after having played with four different teams following his first 5 ½ seasons in the NHL with San Jose. He has walked in Hannan’s skates, so to speak.
“After a few games we got comfortable with each other’s style again,” Stuart said. “It’s all about communication and he’s not shy about talking so that’s good on the ice for me.”
And the differences between Hannan before and now?
“He’s not that different, the same type of player,” said Stuart before adding his humor. “He’s a solid guy who plays minutes. He’s a little bit older now and his hair is shorter. Other than that, not much.”
“Stuey and him had some real good chemistry,” McLellan said. “It didn’t start that way, the first couple games there were a few miscues, but as time has gone on I think they understand each other’s personalities, how they’re going react in certain situations. The two of them have been physical, reliable and you feel good when they’re on the ice.”
Hannan sported shoulder-length locks and a confident attitude as a young defenseman. Always willing to learn, Hannan took instruction from some of the best experienced NHLers this franchise has seen including Ricci, Bryan Marchment, Gary Suter and Jeff Norton. And Hannan is passing along that knowledge to the younger defensemen.
“It’s gratifying to see he’s helping out young guys now,” said Ricci, a teammate with Hannan from 1998-04. “We always talk about how it’s disrespectful to the guys who helped me if I didn’t help somebody in return. I’m happy to see Hanner’s not only playing here, but coming in and helping the young guys. He’s showing his respect like I showed respect to the people who helped me.”
Ricci remembers Hannan in those early years when he was establishing himself on a blue line that included Marcus Ragnarsson, Mike Rathje, Bobby Dollas, Suter, Marchment and Stuart on a team led by the demanding and current Los Angeles Kings Coach Darryl Sutter.
“We’re all in a hurry to move up and to get here, but he did it the right way,” Ricci said. “He cracked the lineup at a young age, but he didn’t do it from being a really high pick or going out and lighting up the scoreboard. He did it with details and when you do that you get a good foundation.”
Hannan’s solid reputation was cemented in the 2004 postseason when he was assigned to shadow Colorado superstar Peter Forsberg. He did an outstanding job shutting the Avs potent scorer down and enabled the Sharks to win the conference semifinals in six games and advance to the Western Conference Final.
“He’s not going to pile up a bunch of points, but he will shut down opponents,” Ricci said about Hannan. “He’s a tough guy to play against in his own way.”
Hannan had another playoff snapshot moment Sharks fans will never forget.
During Game 2 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals against Edmonton, Hannan found himself killing a 5-on-3 penalty along with teammates Mark Smith and Kyle McLaren. Hannan and Smith broke their sticks early in the kill and did everything they could for 101 seconds to prevent the Oilers from scoring a go-ahead goal in a game San Jose would eventually win 2-1. The building erupted with what many still think was the loudest and longest ovation in San Jose history.
“It was a great time, there are a lot of great memories and that one sticks out,” Hannan said. “I remember how loud the building got. It was crazy, it was deafening.
“The fans have always been so good here and behind the team. You can tell this year how loud it is and what a tough building it is to come and play in. It was fun, when you’re battling like that with two other guys and see how the fans react.”
The 2004 playoff performance against Colorado also opened eyes in that organization. The Avs lured Hannan away from San Jose in 2007 with a four-year, $18-million deal.
The decision to leave wasn’t easy.
“It was really tough. You felt like you had a home here,” Hannan said. “When you grow up with a team it’s tough to leave. I learned a lot when you go and play in different systems with different teams. You grow as a player.”
One-year stops in Washington, Calgary and Nashville followed after Colorado. And now he’s back where he started.
“I’m not sure what he thought coming to play here and being in this situation, but he’s in this situation and has responded great,” fellow defenseman Dan Boyle said. “He’s playing a huge role for us. We need him to be physical and he has been.”
“Knowing some of the guys it’s been great,” Hannan said. “Being back, being paired with Stuey is obviously a great thing. Me and Stuey maintained a pretty good friendship. You can be out there and laugh at certain things. It’s real comfortable.”
Ross McKeon covered the San Jose Sharks and the National Hockey League for 17 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner.