NEW YORK - Just two weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Brendan Shanahan is headed back to where it all started.
The all-but-certain Hall of Fame forward agreed in principle to a deal with the Devils on Saturday that will return him to New Jersey - the team that chose him with the No. 2 pick in the 1987 NHL draft.
Shanahan hasn't played since finishing his second season with the New York Rangers last spring. He hoped to remain with the Rangers - who knocked out New Jersey in the first round of last year's playoffs - after becoming an unrestricted free agent, but Shanahan grew tired of waiting for an offer.
"I had no desire to leave my team, but it didn't work out," Shanahan said. "That's sometimes the way it goes in a salary cap business. I had a great two years there."
There were discussions between Shanahan and the Devils in September, general manager Lou Lamoriello said, but the timing wasn't right then for a deal. Shanahan, who will turn 40 on Jan. 23, also talked to the Philadelphia Flyers, but salary cap restrictions prevented a match there.
Because of his young family, Shanahan - Lamoriello's first draft pick with the Devils - didn't want to leave the Northeast despite receiving good offers from teams out west.
"He certainly will not be rushed into anything," Lamoriello said during a conference call. "The coaches will determine when he is ready. I do not feel that age is a factor. I have had players who were 25 going on 50 and players who were 35 going on 25. I feel that Brendan is in the latter part."
Lamoriello spoke with Shanahan's agent this week and then met with the left winger in person Friday. They talked again Saturday and agreed that Shanahan would join the Devils once he is in game shape.
"Lou and I talked around noon," Shanahan said. "When I called and said that I would like to accept his offer and to become a part of the Devils, he said, 'When do you want to skate?' I said, 'I'll be at the arena in two hours.' So I think (the contract) will get worked out in a few days."
Shanahan has 650 goals and 1,340 points in 1,490 NHL games in 21 seasons. He ranks 11th on the career goal list, 24th in points, and is a three-time Stanley Cup champion - all with the Detroit Red Wings.
He has scored at least 20 goals in 19 consecutive seasons and said he is now strong and well-rested for his latest challenge.
"How long it takes, I really don't know," Shanahan said. "I've got a burning desire to get back and help and make an impact on my new team. Hopefully, it's sooner than later."
Shanahan played a major role in the Devils' three titles between 1995 and 2003, but wasn't there for any of the championships.
When Shanahan signed a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Blues in 1991 after four seasons with New Jersey, the Devils received as compensation Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Stevens, who captained the team to each title.
"I have tremendous respect for what Brendan can bring and what he has brought," Lamoriello said. "The major impetus of this was to bring (him) to our power play and specialty teams, which has really been a forte of his in recent years.
"We felt extremely strong that Brendan could add to that, plus what he brings to the overall lineup with experience."
Shanahan is the latest big-name player to come back this season after splitting with the Devils. But unlike forwards Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston, who signed during the summer, Shanahan has never been a teammate in New Jersey with anyone on the current roster.
"That is a nice thing to know that the player knows about the organization, knows what is expected, knows what the philosophy is, so that is something that you don't have to go through," Lamoriello said. "It's nostalgic because Brendan came in when I came in, but that shortly stopped because this is hockey. This is a hockey decision 100 per cent in every way.
"You can never have enough experience. He knows what it takes to win."
Shanahan scored 23 goals in 73 games last season but finished with only 46 points, his lowest total in a full year since his rookie season of 1987-88, Lamoriello's first as GM. He was bothered by a sprained knee sustained in January, but played through it - a move he said was probably a mistake.
Lamoriello isn't concerned, and said he is impressed by Shanahan's work ethic and physical condition.
"He has always been a player that takes care of himself. He looks in great shape," Lamoriello said. "Right now we have an opportunity to add a player without subtracting and get a better feel for who we are."
While Shanahan was targeted for his special teams play, Lamoriello expects him to be a full-time player.
The Devils entered Saturday night's game at Los Angeles having lost two straight and three of five, leaving them third in the tight Atlantic Division race. They were beaten 4-0 at home by lowly Atlanta on Thursday and have scored only 12 goals in five games.
Their power play, ranked 21st in the 30-team NHL, went 0-for-7 in the latest loss and is in a 5-for-36 rut over nine games. The Devils, shut out three times in that span, are 19th in penalty-killing.
"You never make a decision on one or two or even three games," Lamoriello said. "The overall specialty teams' success, or lack of success, in my mind was the impetus in coming to the conclusion right now that (adding Shanahan) would be a positive thing."