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Andrew Shaw’s hurtful outburst shouldn’t define his Hawks legacy

Andrew Shaw will be a restricted free agent after the season. (Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — In less than a six-minute span during the second period in Calgary on March 26, Andrew Shaw reached Peak Andrew Shaw. He got into a shoving match and took a roughing penalty. He got a scoring chance immediately after stepping out of the penalty box. He took an incredibly dumb slashing penalty. He scored a goal. All in a row, one after the other.

Good and bad. Smart and foolish. The best of timing, the worst of timing.

“It’s tough sometimes,” Shaw shrugged the next day. “You lose your head a little bit, and you take a dumb penalty. But when you make stupid mistakes like that, you have to work to earn your way back.”

That’s why Joel Quenneville loves Shaw so much, and why he’s always had a longer leash than most Hawks. For every mind-numbing thing Shaw does — and there are many — he usually atones with his effort, his sheer force of will.

No Hawks player does more with less than Shaw. He doesn’t have Marian Hossa’s size. He doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s hands. He doesn’t have Jonathan Toews’ temperament. But the twice-undrafted Shaw is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a 20-goal scorer, a playoff hero, a fan favorite. He can play on the top line or the fourth line with equal impact. He’s far more than just the Hawks’ agitator.

“People don’t realize how good of a player he is,” said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Now Shaw is coming off the worst-timed mental lapse of his career. His unnecessary interference penalty with 2:04 left in Game 4 cost the Hawks a chance to tie the game and potentially the series. And his inexcusable use of a homophobic slur at the official who called the penalty cost him Game 5, as the Hawks faced elimination Thursday night without one of the few guys who had been effective against the Blues.

And he might not get the chance to redeem himself this time.

Shaw will be a restricted free agent after the season, and unless he’s willing to take a massive hometown discount — certainly less than half what he’d get on the open market — then Shaw’s foolish penalty and despicable outburst could be how his Hawks career ends, depending on what happened in Game 5 at Scottrade Center.

And that would be a shame. What Shaw said was awful, hurtful and undermined everything the NHL stands for as a league that has been at the forefront of inclusion for LGBT people. And let’s be honest, if that’s the first word that comes out of his mouth when his emotions get the best of him, then it’s surely not the first time he’s said it.

But it shouldn’t paint Shaw as a bad guy, or as a hateful guy. Misguided and childish in terms of his vocabulary, sure. But Shaw’s obvious contrition during his apology on Wednesday, his insistence that he’d never use the word again — as well as his extensive work in the community, with injured Chicago Cougars junior hockey player Matt Olson, and for the Blackhawks’ admirable “What’s Your Goal?” campaign — underscore what kind of person Shaw is. There’s a reason his teammates and coaches — the people who know him best — love him and speak so highly of him.

Shaw made a mistake. A terrible one. With significant ramifications on and off the ice.

But it shouldn’t be his legacy. Regardless of what happens next in the series and in his career, Shaw should be remembered fondly in Chicago as the always dedicated, sometimes maddening, and, yes, flawed person that he is. He deserves a chance to atone for something stupid, as he’s done so many times on the ice. He’s earned that much.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus