It was announced that Shea Weber was suffering from multiple injuries and could miss the entire season to recover. The concern among the Montreal Canadiens fan base is also if he never returns. At the very least it will affect how the organization approaches the expansion draft as he will be left unprotected.
At the very least, this opens up Weber’s $7.86 million in cap space for general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin to make some moves this summer. Yet, with Weber out, that leaves a significant hole on the blue line that must be filled.
Weber isn’t called the Man Mountain among the Canadiens fan base for nothing. He played through some very painful and debilitating injuries in these last playoffs in the hopes he could finally win the Stanley Cup. Some in the NHL question the validity of these claims.
“…some teams in the league think Weber’s injury is ‘complete BS’ to get around the expansion draft and the NHL will be very strict here.”– Elliotte Friedman, Avalanche Prevention, 31 Thoughts Podcast
Yet, common sense and the eye test on Weber’s play over the last two seasons dispute the claims of a few bitter NHL managers.
As Eric Engels points out in his tweet above, Weber has been able to play through pain. However, no matter how tough or stoic someone is, that situation can’t continue. Eventually, a player’s body will force them to stop. In Weber’s case, it seems to be now. For now, the expectation is surgery and time for recovery is what he needs. The talk of retirement can wait until he has been given ample time to test if he can recover from these injuries.
This brings us to the point where Bergevin must find a player capable of filling in on the power play, the penalty kill, and fill over 22 mins of ice time per game on the right hand side of the blue line.
With Weber not being protected, it guarantees that Ben Chiarot will be protected. As he is a solid stay-at-home defender, and is one of several of that style on the roster, it still leaves the Habs with a need for additional puck-moving defence. With the right side, and an additional $7.86 million in cap space opened up, there could be room for an unrestricted free agent (UFA) to be added if that is the path chosen.
A popular name would be Dougie Hamilton, and he would be an ideal fit if Bergevin is willing to spend over $8 million or is looking at a long-term replacement.
Last season, Hamilton scored 10 goals and 42 points in 55 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, who gave permission to him to talk to other teams. The 6-foot-6, 229-pound, right-handed defenceman has excellent mobility and reach that he uses to keep attacking forwards to the outside. He isn’t a physical player, but can play well against physical opponents using his large frame to absorb the physical punishment.
He excels in transition with a strong first pass, or can use his smooth skating stride to carry the puck up ice. Also, he can be a power-play quarterback with his strong shot and playmaking. More importantly, he has good stamina, which helps him to play significant minutes in all roles.
If Weber is likely to not return, the Canadiens can be seen as a dark horse for Hamilton’s services. They need a significant upgrade in puck-moving skills, they need help on the right side, they have a team on the rise that could attract the attention of a UFA of this stature, and they have the cap space to fit him and other pieces long term.
The trade route may be more beneficial to the Canadiens. While it would cost assets to acquire a player, their contract would be a better fit for the Habs’ long-term plans considering players such as Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov will all have new deals due in the next two seasons.
Elliotte Friedman has made it known that the Vancouver Canucks are looking to trade Nate Schmidt. This is a player that would be a good fit on the Canadiens right side.
Schmidt is a very good puck-moving defenceman. His main weapon is an ability to jump start the transition game with an ability to make a fast read and accurate first pass. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound defenceman isn’t overly physical, yet he can defend well using his mobility to keep tight gaps on top opposition forwards who he can then strip off the puck with an active stick.
He is versatile in that he can play both sides of the blue line and can quarterback a power play as well. Last season in Vancouver his production slid to five goals and 15 points in 54 games played. It can be argued that the difficult season the Canucks battled through was the source of this dip in production as his three previous seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights were all over 30 points in similar games played.
Schmidt is best suited to play on a team whose forwards can take advantage of his transitional play. The Canadiens are a team that is built to play that style, making him a good fit in a second-pairing role behind Jeff Petry. At 30 years of age and four seasons remaining on his contract at $5.95 million, Schmidt would fit into the Canadiens’ salary cap structure, leaving room under the cap to retain core players.
No matter what route Bergevin decides to take this summer, replacing Weber’s leadership and his determination is impossible. His presence was instrumental in creating a culture within the locker room. On the ice, however, his role must be filled. The Canadiens’ GM will need to find a way to improve upon a roster that was able to make the Stanley Cup Final, but had a difficult time in the regular season. Striking a balance will be difficult, but not impossible as the defencemen used as examples here fit the new NHL mold of mobile, minute-eating defencemen.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.