Andrew Shaw made his career not with overwhelming natural talent but rather with a tenacious work ethic, a hunger to do the little things well and the flexibility to fit anywhere in the Blackhawks’ lineup.
Shaw’s Hawks tenure is no more — the 29-year-old forward officially retired Monday. But looking at the Hawks’ roster now, it’s easy to pick out the player bringing many of the same elements: Brandon Hagel.
“You see a little of me in ‘Hags,’ for sure,” Shaw said Monday. “[He] can skate, get on forechecks and play physical. That’ll help in his career.”
“Coming up into the ranks, [Shaw] was the comparable I got from a lot of people and teams,” Hagel added. “I definitely do see myself in him, playing a little bit the same way. [It’s] nice to hear those things, especially from him.”
Both were underdogs even to make it to the NHL.
Shaw wasn’t drafted until the fifth round in his third year of eligibility, and even then expectations were low. The Hawks didn’t realize what they had in him until he arrived at summer development camp and began “playing like it was the Stanley Cup Final,” as general manager Stan Bowman recalled Monday.
Hagel, meanwhile, was a sixth-round pick — and the team that picked him, the Sabres, never actually offered him a contract. Upon his arrival in the NHL this season, it was Shaw who integrated him into the Hawks and took him under his wing.
“When you come into a new group, it’s tough sometimes,” Hagel said. “You’re with some famous people and you’re a little bit nervous. But he was the first to welcome me here. It just made it so much easier on me.”
Hagel benefits from more inherent hockey skill than Shaw ever did. His skating speed, perhaps the biggest factor in his immediate success this season, in particular blows Shaw out of the water.
Shaw knows it, too: “He’s a lot more skilled than me, and faster than I was,” he said. But Shaw also knows how well he mastered the difficult act of bringing top-level performances to every NHL game, and thus wants to see Hagel “push himself to be more consistent.” Hagel hears that constructive criticism.
“Consistency is the biggest thing, especially playing in this league,” Hagel said. “That’s something he’d definitely bring up to me and talk to me about. It helps me. It puts my head in the right space and I know what I need to do, day in and day out.”
With only 45 career games and zero playoff appearances so far, Hagel has a long way to go to match Shaw’s impressive career accomplishments. But he seems on track to fill the same versatile role with the Hawks.
Shaw not only leaves a legacy of gritty hockey, however, but also a legacy of concussion awareness.
Scientists have learned an immense amount about the damaging effects of brain injuries just over the course of Shaw’s 10-year career. For him to play even this long — considering he suffered too many concussions to count — might’ve been risky, but to retire now also helps set a heartening new precedent for hockey players prioritizing long-term health.
And that’s something Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton, who ended his own playing career at 28 due to concussions, vividly understands.
“You want to be healthy for a long time,” Colliton said. “You want to be able to have a high quality of life after you’re done. [We had] those conversations [about] what I went through to come to my decision that…I couldn’t do it anymore. But it’s his decision. He had to do what’s right for him.”
“I talked to Jeremy a few times,” Shaw added. “He made sure I’m feeling better, that this is the decision I want. And if I ever needed to talk to him, he’s there for me… Just knowing [the Hawks] care and love me is all I need really.”
Former Hawks forward Daniel Carcillo, long one of the biggest critics of the NHL’s handling of brain injuries, tweeted Monday he found it “encouraging to see the [Hawks’] medical staff step up and be an advocate” for Shaw.
That’s indicative of the new era of concussion safety that all sports, particularly hockey, have entered. Shaw’s decision further cements it.
And he can count on Colliton to continue building a culture of mental health conscientiousness in the Hawks organization.