Ryan Shannon is no slug. He has scored 35 goals and recorded 64 assists in 305 career NHL games. As a first-year pro, he ripped up the AHL with a 27-59—86 line for Portland. He won the Stanley Cup in 2006-07 with Anaheim. He also was captain of the 2004-05 Boston College team that included current NHLers Cory Schneider, Brian Boyle, Patrick Eaves, Stephen Gionta, and Peter Harrold.
For all that, playing in the NHL was never easy for Shannon. Last year, when he was in Tampa Bay, some of the game’s appeal had faded.
“Definitely workmanlike,” Shannon said from Switzerland, where he has started the first season of a three-year contract with the Zurich Lions. “You’re scratching and clawing for every minute of playing time.
“I have a huge amount of respect for all levels of players in the NHL. You understand how good you have to be to be a great player in the league and make it to that point. I also respect guys that just get a couple cups of coffee.
“You have to really grind it out. There’s a lot of anxiety that goes into every year. In training camp, you’re trying to make a team. There’s guys trying to take your spot. You’re trying to take somebody else’s spot.
“It’s the ultimate competition. You’re grinding it out. Best man wins. It’s a grind.”
There are few workplaces as demanding as the hockey rink. Thomas Hobbes would have loved chronicling the NHL’s short, nasty, and brutish culture. For every superstar counting his millions, there are hundreds fighting to stay in the game — to say nothing of reaching the show.
For Shannon, last year answered a preseason challenge. On July 7, 2011, the right winger signed a one-year, $625,000 contract with the Lightning. It was his fourth straight one-year deal.
Shannon classified 2011-12 as his make-or-break season. If he couldn’t find a consistent NHL rhythm, he would seek his hockey fortune elsewhere.
In 45 games, Shannon collected four goals and eight assists while averaging 12:01 of ice time. He couldn’t find a regular role. He couldn’t crack Tampa’s top-six formation. Partly because of his size (5 feet 9 inches, 175 pounds) and his game (clever, speedy, offensive-minded), he wasn’t a good fit alongside the Lightning’s footsoldiers.
“Reflecting on the season, why it didn’t work out, there’s only one person to point the finger at — that’s me,” said Shannon, whose NHL passport also includes stamps from Ottawa and Vancouver.
With 15 games remaining, Shannon underwent surgery to fix a torn labrum in his shoulder. By then, he had a good idea he’d be playing overseas.
Technically, Shannon was Lightning property until July 1, when he was to reach unrestricted free agency. But on May 22, after getting approval from Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, the 29-year-old signed his Zurich contract.
With help from agent Justin Duberman, Shannon made his commitment more than a month before the opening of free agency. Some NHL clubs might have kicked the tires had Shannon hit the market. But for Shannon, wife Jess, and young daughter Emma, having three years of job security before the UFA market opened was an alternative they couldn’t turn down.
In some ways, Shannon is following the route that ex-Bruin Glen Metropolit took in 2010. In 2007-08, after arriving in Boston on a tryout basis, Metropolit had 11 goals and 22 assists in 82 games for the Bruins. That bought him a two-year contract with Philadelphia. After being waived in 2008-09, he was claimed by Montreal, and in 2009-10, he had 16 goals and 13 assists in 69 games for the Canadiens.
The versatile center could have stayed in the league. But on Aug. 2, 2010, tired of the vagrancy of bottom-six NHL life, Metropolit signed a two-year contract with Zug of the Swiss National League.
Switzerland was also a popular landing spot during the 2004-05 lockout. Martin St. Louis, Shannon’s former Tampa teammate and offseason training partner, played for Lausanne. Former Bruins captain Joe Thornton and Rick Nash dressed for Davos.
“I wanted to make it a good environment for my family, something we’d enjoy,” said Shannon. “We want balance in life. It’s not just trying to collect a paycheck.
“That’s what guys who played over here during the lockout said. I’ve seen that so far. They live life a little differently than back East. They take hockey very seriously. But it’s a fun balance.”
Shannon is playing for Marc Crawford. The ex-NHL coach, a finalist for the Canadiens job, signed with Zurich July 2 to replace Bob Hartley, who was hired by Calgary.
Through two preseason games, Shannon learned there’s a different style and tempo to Swiss hockey. They play on a bigger sheet. The games emphasize speed and skill. It’s not a straight-line, smashmouth approach. In theory, Shannon should do well in Zurich.
Off the ice, Shannon is settling into his new country. He experienced Street Parade, Zurich’s annual techno party, which nearly 1 million people attend each year. He is picking up bits of Swiss German, the dressing room’s go-to language. He and his wife learned that in grocery stores, you must pay to use a cart.
When it comes to money, Shannon figures Switzerland might offer better net take-home income. He cited taxes, escrow, rent, and moving expenses as some of the variables that nibbled away at his NHL paycheck.
Shannon described his new lifestyle last Tuesday. The same day, 23 of his former NHL brothers helped present the NHL Players Association’s proposal to NHL executives regarding the next collective bargaining agreement. After Shannon listened to some of the elements the NHLPA proposed, he didn’t sound envious of the situation.
“Hopefully there isn’t a lockout,” Shannon said. “But because I signed in May, it was a less stressful summer. We knew we were going to be somewhere and have a job. We didn’t have to worry about it.”
The NHL remains the world’s best hockey league. As of now, it’s unclear if and when it will be open for business. In Switzerland, Shannon is playing hockey and earning a salary. At this rate, he might have some company.
Garden suites get makeover
On Oct. 18, when the Bruins are scheduled to play their home opener against Montreal, half of TD Garden’s 89 suites will have undergone a makeover. This summer, as part of a $10 million overhaul, Garden workers stripped down half of the suites on Levels 5 and 6 to apply updates. The remaining suites will be renovated in the summer of 2013.
Based on feedback from clients, the conclusion was that a more modern, businesslike environment was desirable.
“We wanted to create a hospitality area,” said Amy Latimer, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We wanted the latest technology, food service, and the right atmosphere for their clients.”
Some of the improvements: an entry system where customers swipe their tickets to gain suite access; seamless glass in front of each terrace; larger and newer TVs; an even number of seats on both sides of each terrace; and updated furniture, countertops, and cabinets.
Of course, the question remains whether clients will experience these improvements on schedule.
According to Latimer, some Bruins suite owners also own the same spaces for Celtics games. They could be in line for their second lockout in less than a year.
“We’d like to see it resolved,” Latimer said. “I’m not sure we’re in the same place as 2004-05, when it seemed imminent we’d lose games. There was a more hard-line approach.
“For us, it’s business as usual. We need to operate that way and not get caught behind. But we’ve taken it into consideration. Plan A is business as usual. Plan B is to be prepared. But we’re not acting on it yet.”
Drifting apart out in the gulf
On Wednesday in Toronto, commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr will reconvene for another round of negotiations. Who knows whether a week off (their previous session was last Wednesday) will lead to progress and some warmer language? Before leaving for player meetings in Chicago and British Columbia, Fehr acknowledged the gap between the parties. “There’s a pretty substantial monetary gulf there,’’ he told reporters in Toronto. “When you start with the proposal the owners made, how could it be otherwise? Consider what the proposal was: ‘Let’s move salaries back to where they were before the lockout started back the last time.’ That’s basically what it was. ‘There was a 24 percent reduction last time, let’s have another one.’ That was the proposal. That’s what creates the gulf.” Bettman’s words were no less chilly. “It’s fair to say the sides are still apart. Far apart,” Bettman said. “We have different views of the world and issues.” So far, the primary component the sides agree on is the continuation of the salary cap. Little else has produced concurrence.
Still no movement on Canadiens restricted free agent P.K. Subban. The talented defenseman remains without a contract for 2012-13, although both sides continue to negotiate. During a press conference Tuesday, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin issued a lukewarm vote of confidence on Subban. “He’s a good young player,” Bergevin told the Montreal Gazette when asked whether he considered Subban one of the club’s core players. “A lot of things come into play. There’s potential there, for sure.” Negotiating 101. Naturally, when they agree on an extension, Bergevin will crow about Subban’s eventual ascension to the level of Larry Robinson and Doug Harvey.
Rising in Challenge
Malcolm Subban, younger brother of P.K. and the Bruins’ most recent first-round pick, was in net for Canada’s two regulation wins over Russia in the Canada-Russia Challenge. On Aug. 9, Subban and the Canadians won Game 1, 3-2. With Subban on the bench, Canada dropped the next two matches. On Tuesday, Canada turned back to Subban for the fourth and final game of the series. Canada won in regulation, 4-2, to set up a series-deciding sudden-death overtime. Ryan Strome, junior teammate of Dougie Hamilton, scored in overtime to give Canada the win. Subban will play one more season of junior for Belleville, then most likely turn pro.
The music man
There are some familiar names on Ryan Shannon’s Zurich roster: Gilbert Brule (junior teammate of Milan Lucic in Vancouver), Jeff Tambellini (son of Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini), and former Bruin Matt Lashoff. The Bruins selected Lashoff No. 22 overall in 2005, one slot after Toronto drafted Tuukka Rask. The smooth-skating defenseman never found his game in Boston. On March 4, 2009, Lashoff was involved in one of the biggest heists in club history. Lashoff and Martins Karsums went to Tampa Bay for Mark Recchi and a 2010 second-round pick. A year later, that selection was used as part of the Dennis Seidenberg trade with Florida. Lashoff, most recently in the Toronto organization, might become better known for his musical talents. A singer and guitarist, Lashoff released “Living On Heart” in 2011. We all remember former Boston GM Harry Sinden suggesting that Joe Juneau learn how to yodel when the ex-Bruin threatened to leave for Switzerland. Doubtful that Lashoff needs any yodeling lessons.
He may get his shot
As expected, Mika Zibanejad was one of the standouts earlier this month in Lake Placid. Zibanejad, dressing for Sweden, scored 4 points in four games during USA Hockey’s annual national junior evaluation camp. The slick forward, drafted sixth overall by Ottawa in 2011, could be an NHL regular in 2012-13. The 19-year-old, right-shot Zibanejad appeared in nine games for Ottawa last season before being returned to Djurgardens, his Swedish Elite League club. This time around, Zibanejad will compete with fellow youngsters Mark Stone and Jakob Silfverberg for varsity jobs. Zibanejad already has an NHL-caliber shot, which Rask learned the hard way during an exhibition game last Sept. 21. With Rask leaning to his left, Zibanejad snapped a shot high blocker to give the Senators a 2-1 overtime win.
On Thursday, the Red Wings scrubbed their annual prospects tournament. The eight-team tourney (Detroit, Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Rangers, St. Louis), which takes places in Traverse City, Mich., was scheduled to start Sept. 15, the same day the current CBA will expire. More such cancellations could be imminent . . . Was disappointed, earlier this summer, when players gathered for an NHLPA press conference looking as though they’d come straight from Revere Beach. Not so on Tuesday. When they presented their labor proposal to NHL executives in Toronto, the 23 players wore suits. Small gesture, but a sign the players were there to talk business . . . Five Massachusetts players will participate in next month’s inaugural All-American Prospects Game: Ryan Fitzgerald, Tyler Kelleher, Ross Olsson, Devin Tringale, and Frank Vatrano. The game will feature 40 of the top Americans eligible for the 2013 NHL draft. It will take place at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center Sept. 29 . . . Best of luck to one-year Bruin Steve Begin, a good guy in the room and a heart-and-soul player. The grinding center will be in Calgary on a tryout basis when camps open. Begin might still be effective if healthy. But that’s a big if . . . According to capgeek.com, eight teams remain under the $54 million cap floor. In theory, any of those eight clubs could acquire Tim Thomas with the purpose of hitting the floor. Of course, the new CBA will most likely dictate a new floor, provided one even exists . . . Former Bruin Mark Mowers, a NESN studio analyst last year, will be a pro scout for the Canadiens in 2012-13 . . . Spotted in Vermont earlier this month: a Jetta, with in-state plates, bearing a Blue Jackets sticker. The only explanation is too much cheddar cheese, aged beyond acceptable standards.