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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Shanahan brought it all


Even the inevitable comes with more than a tinge of sadness, if not regret.

Not from Brendan Shanahan, of course, who knew it was time maybe even before it was time.

The clock starts ticking toward Shanahan's induction into the Hall of Fame now that he has made official what has been expected for weeks now -- that he is putting up the blades for good.

What is it they say about time waiting for no man? It is especially true of power forwards whose greatest attributes were never their legs, even in their prime.

Shanahan knew he wasn't a fit in New Jersey, which is why he left the Devils on the eve of the regular season. There was talk he might give it one more hurrah in Philadelphia or maybe with some other Eastern Conference team, but nothing clicked. Even with the epidemic of injuries to top players, Shanahan couldn't find a fit, so it was time.

Still, whenever the great ones go, there is always a moment's pause to reflect and savor one last time those things that made them great.

With Shanahan, it was the double-edged sword he brought to every game.

He could shoot the puck with the best of them. He always put us in mind of Brett Hull the way he would carve out a space, usually near the left faceoff dot, and wait for the puck, sometimes almost getting on one knee as he ripped a shot at the net.

He found the back of the twine 656 times in his 1,524-game career, 11th all time. His 109 game winners are fifth all time.

Yet, unlike Hull, Shanahan was just as comfortable dropping the stick (and gloves) to wreak havoc on opposing players with his fists.

"He would take on the biggest, toughest guy," former teammate Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com on Tuesday. Yzerman recalls Shanahan going to opposing teams and calling players out, demanding they fight, if Shanahan thought they had taken liberties with members of the Red Wings.

"It was a great combination. He really added a dimension to our team, a real presence," Yzerman said. Shanahan is the only player in NHL history to collect 600 or more goals and have 2,000 or more penalty minutes.

The native of Mimico, Ontario, (a town that is part of Toronto now) joined the Wings early in the 1996-97 season, traded from Hartford for Keith Primeau and Paul Coffey. That spring, the Wings would end a 52-year Cup drought with the first of three Cups that Shanahan would win as a Wing. Yzerman and Shanahan spent a decade playing together in Detroit -- the best, happiest part of his career, Yzerman said; Shanahan's too, the longtime Wings captain figures.

"We had a lot of laughs, talked a lot of hockey," Yzerman said.

The goals, along with the 698 assists and the three Stanley Cups and the gold medal and, well, you get the picture, will ensure that Shanahan will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

But Shanahan wasn't just a goal-scoring machine, he was a big personality in a game that sometimes lacks for those kinds of broad-shouldered types.

Thoughtful, quick-witted and well-versed in a variety of topics beyond what lie his stick was and the tendencies of the next goalie down the line, Shanahan was always a go-to guy for the media.

He was tireless in his work outside the arena, too, earning various community awards in his career, including the King Clancy Trophy in 2003 for outstanding community service.

"This is a guy who was larger than life," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com.

Shanahan never played for Burke, but the two spent a lot of time in the Boston area in the offseason and have been meeting for years at a local restaurant/bar to shoot the breeze.

"He's kind of a poster boy for what we'd like all our players to be like," Burke said.

Tough, well-spoken, media-savvy, a throwback on the ice but a bit of a renaissance man off the ice. "Good Irishman," Burke added.

Funny thing about Shanahan, for all the on-ice accomplishments, and there are many, a new generation of hockey fans might think of him more as a "builder" than a player.

During the lockout, Shanahan -- with plenty of help from the NHLPA -- helped organize what became known as the Shanahan Summit, a meeting of the hockey minds, as it were. A number of the issues and recommendations discussed at the event ended up being part of the NHL's rebirth after the lockout ended in the summer of 2005.

Burke was part of that summit, and he said much of what was discussed there "set the stage" for positive changes in the game.

"It's a sad day," Burke said of Shanahan's retirement.

With such a strong personality, there will be much speculation about what Shanahan will do now.

A place with the beleaguered NHLPA? Not likely. Too polarizing a personality. What about a place with the league?

In a curious move, it was the league that announced Shanahan's retirement Tuesday. Generally, the union handles those kinds of announcements when a player isn't still affiliated with a specific team.

It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Shanahan end up with some role within the New York offices of the league.

And then there's always broadcasting. He's as smooth as silk, so it wouldn't surprise us to see Shanahan pop up on someone's Olympic broadcasts from Vancouver in February.

Gone? Hard to imagine that. Forgotten? Hardly.