It's starting to look like Darryl Shannon has found a home with the Buffalo Sabres.
The veteran defenseman has been a member of the team for about a year and a half, and he's been a generally dependable, consistent player. After taking six years to just become a regular in the NHL, and having bounced from Toronto to Winnipeg to Buffalo in less than three years, he's established some roots here.
"I think I've played my best so far here," said Shannon. "I don't think I've played to the best of my capabilities. That's still to come, I hope. I feel very comfortable. I've been very happy with the team, the organization, the city -- everything about coming here."
Perhaps one of the reasons he has become established as a regular here is that he doesn't think like one. He still sounds like someone who remembers his days in the minor leagues, and who wants to avoid a return trip no matter how unlikely it may be now.
"Unfortunately with the type of business we have, things can change very quickly, so all I can do is enjoy it while I'm here," he said. "I don't think you can allow yourself to be too secure. A lot of guys play their best hockey when they are on the fringe, when they are trying to break through. . . . I feel a little more comfortable, but I'm not allowing myself to take that for granted."
By some statistical standards, Shannon had the best season of his career in 1996-97. He had four goals and 19 assists for 23 points, a career high, and his plus-23 was also a personal best.
"Defensively, I think he's one of the most underrated defensemen in the league," fellow Sabre defenseman Mike Wilson said. "How often do you see him get beat one-on-one? Most of the time we play against top lines. It's great playing with him. You don't get into many two-on-one situations."
With the departure of Garry Galley to free agency over the summer, the 29-year-old Shannon is the veteran of the defensive unit. Galley was considered one of the team leaders on last season's squad, and you'd think that Shannon would try to help fill that role this season. If you did, you'd be wrong.
"I'm not trying to do anything I can't do," he said. "All I can do is the same things I've done my whole career. I know we have a fairly young defensive corps, but I think you get yourself into trouble if you start taking on too much responsibility. If they want to look at me and ask the questions, that's fine."
One of the reasons for that is Shannon has a much different personality than Galley. Shannon is one of the quietest members of the team, while Galley's face seemed to light up whenever he saw a microphone. Still, it would be a good idea for any young defenseman to seek out Shannon for his opinions on the game of hockey. Wilson, his defense partner for almost all of Shannon's time here, has picked the veteran's brain quite often. "He lives down the road from me and Jay McKee," Wilson said. "He's kind of an older brother. He looks after us. At the same time, he still likes to fool around with us.
"He's been unbelievable. When he came over from Winnipeg (during the 1995-96 season), I was minus-12 or something in my first year. I wound up plus-13. Over the last year and one-half, we don't even have to talk on the ice any more. We just know where each other is going to be, and what each other will do in certain situations."
While forward lines often get switched from game to game and from period to period, the Sabres stuck to the same defense pairings for most of last season. Shannon and Wilson believe that helped them both.
"I think I've had Jay McKee as a partner two or three times. Otherwise I haven't had anyone but Mike Wilson," Shannon said. "For me it's been very enjoyable. He's an easy guy to play with. As much as some people criticize him -- and I'm not sure why -- he's made my life a lot easier on the ice. I don't know if it's a communications thing where he reads me on the ice. He's got good hockey sense, so he can react. . . . I give him a lot of credit."
"You really notice it in training camp," Wilson said about the importance of a working relationship between defensemen. "Jay McKee and I played together in Hamilton (in the opening preseason game). We were falling all over each other. My dad was saying that it looked pretty scary when we were on the ice. It looked like we were in the same spot all the time. When Darryl's out there, you don't really worry about the other person. You trust him, and you know what they are going to do and what they are capable of doing."
Wilson also would like to think he's learning about the need for a strong work ethic from Shannon.
"On the ice he's probably one of the most intense guys I've ever seen," Wilson said. "After a warm-up, he's soaking wet with sweat. Most guys don't even sweat during warm-up. He loves to play."
And that approach carries over into Shannon's outlook for the coming season. He knows the Sabres have had more than their share of turmoil in recent months, and he doesn't care about it.
"We basically have the same team," he said. "A lot of changes came in the summer, but they were in management and coaching. There's no reason not to continue where we left off last year.
"For me they are just excuses. We're here to play hockey."