There are a lot of words that accurately describe Shea Weber being named captain of the Montreal Canadiens. “Surprising” is not one of them.
Weber the New Canadiens Captain
Weber’s pedigree as a captain (having previously served in that capacity while with the Nashville Predators) might have actually factored the least into the decision, looking at all the points in his favor.
From management’s perspective (and admittedly almost everyone else’s), Weber is a highly feared defenseman who commands respect from opponents whenever he is on the ice and teammates whenever he’s in the locker room. His statistical resume speaks for itself, with 10 seasons of 15 or more goals and 40 or more points.
Considering his contract, with eight years left at $7.9 million per, Weber’s also a safe bet to stay and put an end to the unofficial curse that has surrounded the team’s captaincy for three decades. None of the last nine Habs captains have ended their careers with the team. The question is though, for whom is it most safe?
You have to believe that, in addition to all those reasons above, what factored in as well was how Weber had been acquired. The trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Weber will likely end up being general manager Marc Bergevin’s legacy. If you believe the rumors that have circulated since the deal, it was made to improve the team culture and leadership in the locker room. Mission accomplished?
The Pacioretty Succession Plan
So, there really was no other choice for this management group, even if, say, Brendan Gallagher was arguably the better choice to succeed Max Pacioretty as captain. Similar to with Subban, there had been rumors that Pacioretty helped perpetuate problems in the locker room. It didn’t help matters that Bergevin himself did little to quell them. Bergevin arguably fanned the flames instead.
Of course, it’s easy to say Pacioretty was a bad captain following non-playoff finishes in two of the last three years. Somehow, you’ll meet heavy resistance saying Bergevin is a bad general manager for the same reason, though. Regardless, look at the leadership core from four years ago: Pacioretty, Subban, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec, all of whom had been named as alternates. Technically none survived past last season.
Granted, Plekanec re-signed this past summer, but he had been dealt at the last trade deadline. Maybe that means Pacioretty, who eventually got voted captain by his teammates, was the least-bad option on a team devoid of leaders. Or maybe that’s the most-convenient narrative seeing as the Habs won two division titles with him wearing a letter since that point in time. Maybe he wasn’t so bad, after all.
The Most Surprising Part
That’s maybe the most surprising part about all of this. Not even that Plekanec, who, a handful of games away from 1,000 played with the Habs, was passed over as an alternate in favor of Paul Byron. That does make sense, seeing as Plekanec is on a one-year deal, potentially his last, while Byron just re-signed for four more seasons.
It’s instead that management took the decision out of the players’ hands. Head coach Claude Julien and Bergevin named Weber captain themselves, as if to say the players made the wrong choice last time. So, the decision does seem a tad self-serving, especially when Julien says, “We made the decision because we knew it wasn’t necessary to have a vote. It would’ve been the same thing.”
Say what? You didn’t want the players to vote for the teammate they respect the most, when someone being named to a leadership position by their peers arguably means more than having management hand it to them? That doesn’t make sense, if Julien and Bergevin truly believed Weber would have been a unanimous decision. Sure, Gallagher probably would have voted for Weber. But that’s dismissing how Gallagher voting for himself probably wouldn’t have been kosher.
Here is Brendan Gallagher on Shea Weber from last March. I can't imagine, if he had a vote, that he would have picked anyone other than Weber. He probably would have led the campaign. You can read more here: https://t.co/ZmP69NVnce pic.twitter.com/2LSQTvQi8j
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) October 1, 2018
Weber the Likeliest Choice
Ultimately, Weber was always the likeliest choice, from a managerial perspective. To be fair, Weber might very well have won it with a player vote, too. After all, he embodies the classic definition of a lead-by-example, old-school captain.
It doesn’t really matter in the end. The captaincy is a largely symbolic position that may be a huge honor to hold, but, in terms of responsibilities, you have to believe it will end up being business as usual for Weber. Nothing was holding him back from taking on a leadership role before, especially as an alternate under Pacioretty.
In that respect, you have to believe Bergevin and Julien have liked what they’ve seen in Weber over the last two years he’s effectively been auditioning for the role. Seeing as they call the shots, no, it may not be a surprising choice, but that does make it the right one.
Granted, that argument conveniently ignores how Bergevin and Julien would have had to be right all this time too, and that’s not likely. That being said, Weber actually panning out as captain wouldn’t be surprising either. It would be wholly expected, making the decision a good one, if not the absolute best. Considering the last few years, the Habs can do a whole lot worse than “good.”
Take it and run.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.