Unrestricted free agent enforcer Jody Shelley has retired at age 37 to accept an off-ice position in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Shelley will be doing some broadcasting work for the Blue Jackets in addition to serving as a community ambassador.
When the Flyers signed Shelley in the 2010 offseason, the club indisputably overpaid to lure the veteran enforcer away from the New York Rangers. At age 34, he received a three-year contract worth $1.1 million against the salary cap. Even from day one, that was clearly too much money for his limited on-ice role, and too long for am aging career fourth-line winger with a limited natural skill set. Last season, he underwent hip surgery late in January, and was on injured reserve for the rest of the year.
Shelley only dressed in a combined 89 games in his three seasons with the Flyers, including one game last season. He had two goals, three assists and 191 penalty minutes while averaging a little more than six minutes of ice time per game. Shelley also did not have an especially impressive "won-loss record" in his fights -- though no such ledger exists in reality, nor is it even the main purpose of his role.
Many Flyers fans never warmed to Shelley. I fully understand why. However, Shelley will very much be missed by his Flyers teammates, coaches and people around the team. What most of the fans who questioned why the Flyers never waived him and buried him in the AHL missed was the level of respect he earned from within.
Shelley did whatever he possibly could to make himself valuable to the team, beyond dropping the gloves. He did plenty of things that fans don't get to see and of which the media catches only glimpses, but which teammates and coaches noticed and appreciated.
For example, he frequently practiced as the team's eighth defenseman, although he never skated a single shift on the blueline in a game. By practicing as a defenseman as well as a forward, it allowed the Flyers to get reps for all seven of their roster defensemen; rolling out four pairs at practice when everyone was available or having a stand-in available in case of maintenance days.
On a daily basis, Shelley set a positive example of professionalism and work ethic. He was always one of the first players on the rink, and always available to put in extra work with any teammates who wanted it. In the locker room, he always made himself available to anyone who wanted to talk to him. Along with people like Danny Briere, Shelley was one of the veterans on the Flyers who went out of his way to make the many young players on the team feel welcomed.
For instance, despite the severe language barrier, Shelley was one of the first Flyers veterans who tried to connect with Sergei Bobrovsky during the Russian goaltender's rookie year. The next year, Jaromir Jagr (who can speak Russian as well as Czech and English) became a confidant of Bobrovsky's.
As a player who spent considerable time in the ECHL and AHL before literally fighting his way up to the top, Shelley always understood what an honor it was to be in the NHL. He never took a day in the league for granted, and those 627 regular season NHL games he played were earned with his blood and sweat. I'll also add that players don't achieve that sort of longevity unless they've got a good grasp on how to play the game. Apart from fighting, Shelley was reliable in terms of making safe plays with the puck and mucking along the boards.
Off the ice, like many of his enforcer brethren, Shelley is one of most genuinely likable people you'd ever want to meet. He's a family man with his priorities in order. There are no "good guy" points in the cutthroat business sides of hockey or the working world in general, but Shelley is the type of guy you WANT to see stay around your organization for as long as possible.
Shelley was always approachable by the media and fans. A quick anecdote: I remember seeing Shelley in the Flyers' locker room at SkateZone the day after a game in his second season with the club. His right hand was bruised and swollen from punching an opponent's helmet the previous night and he had a small cut under one of his eyes. The team itself was in a bit of a skid, having lost something like four of six games (including the one the previous night).
There weren't a lot of smiling faces and levity around the locker room that day. Not a lot of players were in the mood to once again deconstruct the losing streak. But Shelley did so willingly and in straightforward fashion, basically saying the team had fallen into some bad habits during the latter part of a winning streak that preceded the skid and they were paying the price for it now.
Roughly two hours later, after I got my writing finished, I packed up my computer and headed out. Jody Shelley was standing in the parking lot -- not riding by in his car and stopping momentarily to sign a couple autographs on the way, I mean standing outside the building near the spot where the fans wait daily for the players. He was chatting with a couple of hockey parents and their kids who were arriving at the rink.
That was Shelley in a nutshell: A guy who not only understood his on-ice role on the team but someone who had his finger on the pulse of what was going on with the Flyers. He wasn't just there to cash a check. He understood what being part of a team was all about. Add that to the fact that he's someone who genuinely loves the game and being around the rink -- even apart from hockey being his job.
I came to understand why Shelley stayed with the Flyers when he seemed like an obvious candidate to be waived for cap relief. He was a throwback role player who was still part of the contemporary game, and I mean that in a positive way.
Former Flyers forward Ian Laperriere, now the organization's Director of Player Development, will be participating in the Ironman Mont-Tremblant: North American Championship on August 18. Apart from competing in the triatholon, Lappy is raising funds for a variety of charitable causes: the IRONMAN Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and Go4theGoal Foundation- Tunes4Teens. For more information or to make a donation, click here
Kindle users: Please sign up for Flyers Buzz. For more information click here
Click below to follow me on Twitter: