Brendan Shanahan is coming back for a 22nd NHL season and there's no guarantee this one will be his last.
"I don't know the answer to that, but it's not necessarily the last season," Shanahan told me today. "I make that judgment at the conclusion of a season, never at the beginning."
The 40-year-old wing agreed to terms Tuesday on a one-year, $1 million deal with the Devils and the team officially anounced the signing earlier today.
Shanahan already had a pretty good idea what to expect from Jacques Lemaire before they sat down for a meeting on Monday in New Jersey. Still, that was the final step before Shanahan agreed to re-sign with the Devils.
"When Lou (Lamoriello) hired Jacques, I sort of thought he was going to be the guy and I always had a ton of respect for him and his abilitities from playing against him so much in the Western Conference (when Lemaire was in Minnesota and Shanahan was with Deroit)," Shanahan said. "I was excited about that, but I still thought it was the right thing to do to give him a chance to meet with me and talk with me and vice versa. I wouldn't say he said anything that surprised me or anything that jumped out. You can tell he's a smart hockey man and he's excited about coming back and coaching here."
Shanahan admitted that the Devils' delay in hiring a coach (Lemaire was not named until July 13) contributed to his delay in re-signing, but there was more that went into it than that. First, he had to decide whether he definitely wanted to play again.
"I suspected the way I felt and played at the end of the year and in the playoffs that I felt good and I felt I was going to play again, but, at the same time, I think you have to step away and get into your off-season training and just make sure that physically and mentally you're ready for another season," he said.
Once that was decided, returning to the Devils, who drafted him second overall in 1987, was always high on Shanahan's list.
"I had a good experience last year," he said. "My teammates welcomed me into the room halfway through the season. That's not an easy thing to do, to have a guy join your team in January. They were all very welcoming. It was a bit of a homecoming for me to be back with Lou and a lot of people that are still around from my first trip through New Jersey.
"Obviously, there were a lot of unanswered questions in early July with the coaching change and things like that, so one of the things that Lou and I had spoken about at the time was that I would be more comfortable and I think he agreed that we should wait until a coach is named and I had an opportunity to meet with that coach and he meet with me so that we were both comfortable moving forward. So, he wasn't inheriting a player and I wasn't inheriting a coach. We were making a decision to work together. So, we wanted to wait for that as well."
Shanahan drove down from Cape Cod, where he has been spending the summer with his family, to meet with Lemaire on Monday. Shanahan said he is comfortable playing any role Lemaire asks him to fill.
"It's one thing to say I'll play any role, but it's another to do it and also to do it well," he said. "I think I've shown over my career, especially last year, that I will enthusiastically embrace any role that's given to me, especially if I feel it's helping the team. I think that I have more to give as a player and that I'll help this team. Whatever it is they need, I feel like I can play hockey many different ways."
Shanahan said that he did not discuss with Lemaire the possibility of taking days off during the season to remain fresh.
"I think that's jus something you feel," Shanahan said. "It's not something you discuss. That will be a subject that is based more on performance than necessarily my age or anything like that."
Shanahan concedes that 22 NHL seasons is a lot.
"It does feel like a long time," he said. "But, if I didn't feel like I was going to be an asset, I wouldn't come back. That does seem like a lot (of seasons), but, at the same time, I think it's something I'm still good at and I felt I was going to help whatever team signed me and I'm just glad that it was back with the Devils."
Shanahan relishes the opportunity to work with the young players that will have a chance to make the team in training camp.
"It's really important, especially with the way the salary cap is, but in any organization it's important to give young players an opportunity and there have been some opportunities created with some guys leaving," Shanahan said. "The team will certainly miss those players, but now there are young guys who are off in their hometowns right now that are hopefully going to come in and make a big impression. It was something I enjoyed last year, watching and working with some of the younger players on the team. It's a role that in the last few years of my career that I've really enjoyed and embraced.
"I enjoy the enthusiasm of the young players. When I first started I had some veteran players that were really helpful to me. But I'm not coming back for that reason alone. I'm not coming back just to be a mentor. I'm coming back because I feel like I'm a good NHL player and I'm going to have a big impact on this team next year."
Winning another Stanley Cup is still very important to Shanahan, who won three with Detroit.
"Winning still drives me tremendously," he said. "I'm still a complete junkie for winning at whatever I do. The opportunity to win another championship is something that (is important. II don't think is ever gone into a scrimmage or practice and not in the pit of my stomach wanted to win. If I didn't have that desire to win and to win a championship and to win every night, I truly wouldn't come back and play."
Shanahan had to sit out the first three months of last season while waiting for a team to sign him (the Devils did so on Jan. 15). So, though it took some time to get the deal done, he's happy to signed and looking forward to being in training camp with the team.
"I'm glad to know and I'm also glad to have that training camp," he said. "I think I really missed training camp and having that opportunity to integrate myself with the guys on the team and linemates. So, I'm looking forward to that."