Even for the most selfless team player, the thought of being bumped from the top line to the fourth line would typically be frustrating, if not outright insulting. But the Blackhawks’ fourth line isn’t a typical fourth line, and Andrew Shaw isn’t a typical player.
So when the Blackhawks finally return to full strength in the coming weeks — Marian Hossa will be back as soon as Wednesday in St. Louis, and Marcus Kruger will be back before the end of the regular season in a month — Shaw won’t complain when his stint as Jonathan Toews’ wing comes to an end. It’s the blessing and the curse of adding three scoring wingers at the trade deadline.
“I don’t think it’s a curse at all,” Shaw countered. “I think it’s a positive. It gives us another chance to go deep in the playoffs. It shows that [management] had the confidence in the team to add more players and make us that much better.”
And indeed, while Shaw has done an admirable job on the top line since just after Christmas, the Hawks are at their best when he’s in a bottom-six role, providing depth scoring and energy down the lineup. And while most fourth lines play only a handful of minutes a night, the Hawks’ soon-to-be-reunited fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Kruger and Shaw was as big a reason as any that they won the Stanley Cup last spring.
“We just play a style of game that complements each other — aggressive, hard on the puck, good on the forecheck, responsible defensively,” Desjardins said. “I don’t know how else to explain it. It just seemed right, and it just worked.”
Just like in 2013, when Kruger joined forces with Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik to form a fourth line no other team could match, the Hawks’ depth at forward is usually what separates them from other contenders. That depth hasn’t been there this year, as Patrick Kane’s line has had to carry the entire lineup for much of the season. But by adding Andrew Ladd (who’s taking Shaw’s spot on the top line) and Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise (who are likely to flank Teuvo Teravainen on the third line), the Hawks suddenly have a formidable four-line rotation again.
It’s a sign of Shaw’s versatility and value that he can play on any line, at any position (he’s been filling in for Hossa on Toews’ right wing since Ladd arrived).
“He’s a guy that can pretty much fill any role,” Kane said. “I know that he’s been a big fan favorite ever since he’s come to the team, but he does a lot of things on the ice that can get other players excited, too — whether it’s fights or big hits or taking hits to make plays, especially at his size. He’s a valuable asset. And he’s a great guy for the locker room, too. I think we all enjoy his presence here. He brings a lot to the team.”
That team-first mentality — nobody can spout a well-worn but well-meaning teamwork cliché quite as well as Shaw — is why he’s not silently stewing or openly whining about his inevitable “demotion” down the lineup, even in a contract year. Shaw will be a restricted free agent following the season, and while he has a career-high 20 assists through just 66 games to go along with his 11 goals, it’s his all-around usefulness that has endeared him to his teammates, and to his coach.
“You look at our team, and anyone can play in that [top-line] spot,” Shaw said. “We’ve got four lines that can play hockey, and play hockey well. No matter where I’m playing, I’m just excited for the playoffs, and to finish the season strong. It should be fun.”