Chicago Blackhawks veteran forward Andrew Shaw is retiring from the NHL after doctors "highly recommended" he stop playing to care for his long-term health after several concussions.
"I want people to know that I'm OK," Shaw told ESPN. "I'm in a good place. But I'm going to miss it, I'm going to miss it like crazy still."
Shaw, 29, was in his second stint with Chicago, where he won Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015. Over his 10-year, 544-game NHL career, Shaw also played three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
However, the winger -- known for his gritty, physical style -- has been plagued by head injuries. A concussion Shaw sustained in November 2019 kept him off the ice for 14 months.
Shaw entered this season feeling optimistic and rejuvenated. But in February, he was elbowed in the head during a game against Dallas and was diagnosed with another concussion.
"I know I only played 14 games [this season], but to work your way back, when people are telling you that you should be done, and people are doubting you could make it back, it was worth it," Shaw said. "I took my time, I made sure I was feeling 100%. And then to score a few goals at the UC [United Center] again, it was worth it. I wouldn't change it at all."
Recently, doctors told Shaw it was in his long-term best interest not to try another comeback.
"Andrew suffered another concussion on Feb. 9 against the Dallas Stars," said Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry. "Though he has recovered, given the potential long-term consequences of repetitive concussions, we have advised him to discontinue his career as a professional hockey player. The Blackhawks are very supportive of his decision to prioritize his long-term health."
When Shaw heard the recommendation, he said his "stomach just sunk. I felt my heart pounding; obviously it was super disappointing and sad."
"At the same time, there was a little bit of relief as well. As the type of person I am, I would continue playing until I was dead. I hate letting my teammates down, hate letting the organization down, hate letting fans, my friends and family down. I would keep pushing and battling through injury after injury to the point where there probably would be no return. I'm so thankful I have a wife and kids -- another part of my life that would make me happy in the same way hockey kept me happy for most of my life."
Shaw said he was in a vicious cycle of "clawing, fighting back" from concussions just to feel normal. Once he was normal, he only wanted to play hockey again.
"Me being the player I am, I play physical, I play on the edge, and I put myself in vulnerable positions because I'm just so competitive because I want to win, and I push my body to those limits," Shaw said. "But then another concussion would happen, and I'd be back in that dark hole again. The last four years, I felt like I was just clawing."
Shaw said the lowest he felt was while sidelined during his first season with Montreal in 2016-17.
"My state of mind in my head, and what I was going through, depression, anxiety, that was tough," he said.
Shaw didn't want to shy away from talking about the mental health effects of having concussions.
"It's important for everyone to talk about it," he said. "You read about boxers, UFC fighters, football players, what they go through. We're all contact sports, and the head is a fragile thing. It can alter your chemical balance, it can alter your hormones, it can physically change you as a person if you don't take care of it. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a loving family. My agent did everything he could for me. The medical teams on teams I played for made sure I could get help from whoever I needed, whoever I wanted. I've seen more doctors than I ever want to see again in the last four years, but that was the work that needed to be done."
Shaw doesn't think the work is done. "I think it's something I'll continue to work on from time to time. I'm a gym rat, I love being in the gym. That helps my mental health as well, with stress, anxiety, depression. So I'll probably be in the gym five days a week for the rest of my life."
As of now, Shaw said he would not be cleared for contact. He has skated a few times since February but has felt "super nauseous and dizzy out there, so that's something we've been working on in-house."
Shaw said he plans on spending the next year with his wife, Chaunette, and their children, Andy and Dax.
"Now to have a weekend -- just spending a Saturday with my wife and kids -- not getting in at 3 a.m., just to go to practice the next day, not being told where we need to be, what we need to eat, what we need to do, what we need to wear, that freedom is going to be nice," Shaw said. "It's going to be nice for a year. And then? I don't know. I want to stay in hockey. I love this city [Chicago]. So hopefully you'll see me poke my head in whenever I can. Long-term, I'm not sure. Sometimes that's scary, but freedom is also nice."
Shaw, a Belleville, Ontario native, was passed over twice in the NHL draft before the Blackhawks selected him in the fifth round in 2011 as a 19-year-old. He scored 116 career goals and had 247 points and 573 penalty minutes. Shaw also played in 72 career playoff games, scoring 16 goals (including two game winners during the 2013 Cup run) and 35 points.
"No two moments sum up Andrew Shaw more than his famous 'head-butt no-goal' and his game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 that ricocheted off his shin pads," said Blackhawks president of hockey operations Stan Bowman. "Throughout his 10-year career with the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, Andrew was always willing to lay his body on the line and put his teammates before himself. He epitomized energy, determination, grit, and toughness and was a player his teammates loved to play with, but his opponents hated to play against.
"Andrew played an integral role on two Stanley Cup Championship teams with the Blackhawks and grew into a leader in the latter part of his career. He kept the locker room on their toes but had the ability to keep his teammates relaxed and ready with his lively personality. Though it is unfortunate Andrew's playing career is over, I admire him for making this difficult decision and putting his family and his well-being first. Andrew will always have a home here in Chicago and we wish him and his family nothing but the best in the next chapter of their lives."
Shaw is the second longtime Chicago veteran to be forced into retirement for a medical reason this season. Brent Seabrook, 35, called it a career after Terry said the team "tried all available conservative treatments, and nothing has worked well enough for him to live his life as an athlete." Seabrook was under contract through 2024. Shaw's deal runs through the end of next season.
"If you were to ever play me in any card game, anything, I'm probably one of the most competitive people you'll ever meet," Shaw said. "I hate losing, and I think that's what drove me to keep playing hockey. I guess finally someone noticed that, and said, 'Hey, this kid might not be the most skilled player, but he'll outwork or outcompete anyone on the ice, or at least try to.' I think that's what people finally, eventually saw when I was 19 years old. All of that is what made me who I am as a player."