Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A salute to Shanny

I had the sound turned down on the TV when I saw the news on Sunday morning. But I didn't need to hear anything. Over Jay Harris' shoulder on SportsCenter was a head-shot of Brendan Shanahan with a New York Rangers logo next to it. And I sat down on the corner of my bed and said "damn."

Maybe it was the cumulative effect of three of Detroit's biggest stars leaving within a week. Or maybe this was the one that got to me, because I'd expected Steve Yzerman and Ben Wallace to leave town. I realized Shanahan could leave too, but I guess I thought he might retire as a Red Wing. And now, it looks like we really are seeing the end of an era in "Hockeytown."

It doesn't feel quite right to be writing on Shanahan when I haven't written about Yzerman yet. There aren't many other Detroit athletes I feel more strongly about. On the other hand, there are plenty of other tributes to find elsewhere in the blogosphere and internet, and I'm not sure I have much else to add - for now.

Had Shanahan really been here for 10 years? (Okay, nine seasons.) That's the first thing that struck me. Man, time really flies. I still remember the talk that the Wings might get him in a deal, and how incredible that would be for their Stanley Cup prospects. Even when he first took the ice against Edmonton wearing the winged wheel (arriving at Joe Louis Arena shortly before warm-ups), after Budd Lynch announced his name, I couldn't believe it. Because this was the guy. This was the guy that truly made Detroit a championship team. A big power forward who scored goals and wasn't afraid to fight, not one the quick little gnats that made for great, high-scoring regular seasons, but got pounded by the New Jersey Devils.

And if there was any question as to whether he was truly a Red Wing, Shanahan answered that for certain months later when he sped across the ice to cross-body block Patrick Roy like a pro wrestler. Darren McCarty had to beat the $#!+ out of Claude Lemieux that night, to defend the honor of his teammate, Kris Draper, and to show the Avalanche that Detroit was the best team in the NHL. Shanahan knew that, and was right in the middle of it. It didn't become official for another three months, but I'd make the argument that the Wings won the Stanley Cup in late March.

My favorite Shanahan moment occurred later in that '97 postseason. It might seem kind of strange because it wasn't a particularly spectacular goal, nor was it terribly important. But oh man, was it symbolic. When I think of Shanahan's career as a Red Wing, I think of his empty-net goal against Colorado in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. That absolutely clinched the game, and the series, and a hard-fought playoff victory over one of the most hated rivals the city of Detroit has ever had. I don't need a TV highlight; I can see the smile on Shanahan's face - arms raised triumphantly, his teammates celebrating with him - when I close my eyes.

There were other Stanley Cup victories and celebrations, of course. But I suppose you never forget your first, as a fan. And that one's always going to be special.

Was that really almost ten years ago? And now, Shanahan - seeing the proverbial handwriting on the wall with an early-round playoff loss and Yzerman's retirement - is moving on to New York, seeking a "new challenge," and acknowledging to the Free Press' Mitch Albom that he's more a part of the Red Wings' past than its future. That's about as honest an exit as I've ever heard from a professional athlete - especially in recent years.

I've heard some bitterness from jilted Detroit hockey fans, and I understand that. The usual sentiment is to say "Fine! We didn't need you, anyway!" when a guy decides to leave town. (And Shanahan's poor playoff performance vs. Edmonton adds some bile to that venom.) But I don't agree with that - not this time. This isn't about taking more money. This isn't a sour split between a team and a player.

Is there a little bit of getting out while the getting's still good? Probably. But I can't blame Shanahan for that. Things are going to be changing at Joe Louis Arena. Have you ever been at a job when most of your buddies have moved on? Did you feel like you didn't want to be the last one to turn the light off? He sees fewer familiar faces in that locker room. An icon just retired. And maybe a better opportunity exists elsewhere - especially in regards to his post-hockey career.

If the rumblings are true, Shanahan eventually wants to work in the NHL offices. And having organized the "Shanahan Summit" during the most recent NHL lockout, he's already shown a knack for negotiation, organization, and vision. So New York is a smart place for him to be right now. How can you begrudge him for seeing that?

So no hard feelings here. If I had a hockey stick, I'd raise it in salute. You were a part of one of my favorite teams ever. Thanks for the memories, Shanny. I'll be keeping an eye on you with the Rangers. See if you can get those poor New Yorkers a Stanley Cup in the process.

(Photo by David Guralnick/ Detroit News)

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  • At July 11, 2006 2:43 PM, Blogger Big Al said…

    Well said, Ian. I understand why this happened, but I am NOT happy with the Wings losing Shanny. It's impossible to replace what he brought to the team.

  • At July 11, 2006 4:30 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    Not only do I understand this; I *am* glad it happened.

    Shanny said it best: He was a part of the past. And while a big power forward who could score would be nice, I'm not convinced that's their biggest weakness considering Robert Lang's presence, which wasn't at all as awful as his teammates' during the playoffs in either of his seasons in Detroit.

    No, Detroit lacks: (1) Grit during the playoffs, (2) Leadership from players who are truly hungry. You can't get number 2 without the big name guys stepping down. The Wings probably aren't in a Cup position this year (they wouldn't have been even with Shanny). But they will be in 2-3 years when one of their three studly goalie prospects begins to pan out, when Kronwall and Lebda are two premier defensemen, and when Zetterberg is finally recognized for what he is: The best all-around player in the entire NHL. And those guys, just like Shanny and Yzerman and Lidstrom and Fedorov and Draper, aren't going to want to hear about how they're so good but can't win a Cup without guys like Yzerman, et cetera. And then they'll put the hurt on people.

  • At July 11, 2006 8:19 PM, Blogger Mini Me said…

    Shanahan was awesome. Everyone in Detroit should go find his house and throw octopuses on his front door.

  • At July 14, 2006 11:18 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    I saw the same report on ESPN that you saw and had the same reaction - verbatim. I revered Yzerman but Shanny was always my favorite Red Wings player. It's been a long time since I've been this bummed out that a player left Detroit. Here are my top five in order of their departure:

    Jason Thompson, Tigers
    Howard Johnson, Tigers
    Adrian Dantley, Pistons
    Jack Morris, Tigers
    Adam Oates, Wings
    Barry Sanders, Lions

    I'm not disregarding Yzerman's retirement. I wasn't surprised with that news as I was with, say, oh, I don't know -- Barry Sanders.

    Adios, Shanny. Ye shall be missed.


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