Considering how intertwined Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber has become with the organization, it’s easy to forget how he hasn’t even been a Hab for a quarter of his overall games played. Hitting 1,000 in his career (Game No. 237 with the Canadiens) against the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, the milestone nevertheless speaks to how much he and his experience means to the team.
Weber’s Ups and Downs with Canadiens
Granted, part of the reason why it feels like Weber has been here longer than he actually has? The Habs as a whole haven’t been all that successful since he debuted at the start of the 2016-17 season. A relatively impressive first regular season was overshadowed by a listless team performance in the first round, as the Atlantic Division-champion Habs got upset by the wild-card New York Rangers is six games.
Heading into the hiatus last March, the Canadiens had been on the verge of missing the playoffs in four of the last five seasons (with the fifth season being that massively disappointing loss to the Rangers). So, from at least one angle it’s hard to look at Weber’s overall tenure with the Canadiens with rose-colored glasses.
However, consider the following: The first of those four out of five seasons, Weber was still with the Nashville Predators (with P.K. Subban arguably scapegoated for that failure, by going the other way in the trade). Finally, this really only became Weber’s team when he succeeded Max Pacioretty (who, himself, was effectively scapegoated) as captain for the 2018-19 season, when the Habs just barely missed the playoffs with 96 points. Most other years the Canadiens would have been expected to make them with that amount.
Fast-forward to last season’s play-in round victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins and all of a sudden Weber’s Canadiens don’t look too shabby. They may had been on the verge of a disappointing season, but, not only did they reach the playoffs in the end, they also pushed the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers to the limit in Round 1, albeit over six games.
Weber’s Staying Put
Needless to say, Weber is one player who’s not at risk of being scapegoated himself. There are a variety of reasons. First and foremost, he admittedly does have a deal ($7,857,143 hit) that would be hard to get rid of, especially in this flat-cap environment.
Second of all, it would be hard to imagine general manager Marc Bergevin even wanting to throw the 6-foot-4, 229-pound behemoth under a bus. That seems like it would just be a good way to wreck a bus and piss off the player popularly known as a Man Mountain.
Third of all, considering the circumstances that brought Weber to town, he and Bergevin are inextricably linked for all intents and purposes. So, no, Bergevin wouldn’t want to trade him anyway. Barring a Stanley Cup, the deal will be Bergevin’s legacy for better or worse, and, based on the on-ice turnaround following Bergevin’s successful offseason, Bergevin’s becoming a safer and safer bet to stick around past the expiry of his current contract in 2022. With him in tow, Weber is a lock to stay as well.
Finally, there’s the undeniable fact that at this juncture no one, arguably Weber least of all, deserves to be scapegoated. The team is performing well and Weber continues to earn rave reviews as, justifiably or not, an early Norris Memorial Trophy candidate. Almost like clockwork each season, ever since he arrived, Weber has received similar consideration. Although he’s been a finalist three times without winning in his career, it’s inconsequential.
These Are Weber’s Canadiens
Ultimately, the progression of the Canadiens with Weber at the helm is obvious. With help from Bergevin, giving head coach Claude Julien the players he needs, Weber included, the Habs defenseman has clearly been a steadying presence in the locker room. While Stanley Cup-winning experience is arguably overrated, the general consensus is Bergevin definitely didn’t hurt the Habs’ chances by bringing in the likes of Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Michael Frolik, Jake Allen and Tyler Toffoli this past summer.
The team is still Weber’s to be clear, but all the moves Bergevin has made reinforce the winning atmosphere that now surrounds the Habs. That feeling Habs fans are getting that this season could be special? It still doesn’t happen without a deep defense corps anchored by Weber and co-No. 1 defenseman Jeff Petry.
The two are polar opposites with Weber playing more of a shutdown role. Regardless, his contributions at the other end of the ice should not be diminished, with Weber having scored just as many goals as Petry in a Habs uniform (54)… in 158 fewer games played heading into action Monday night. Weber is also second in power-play goals among all defensemen since joining the Canadiens, just two behind San Jose Shark Brent Burns’ 26, despite 89 fewer games played relative to him. Despite Weber’s renowned power-play prowess, he and Petry also have the same number of even-strength goals in that span too (30), for the record.
Still, different styles and all that. The Canadiens need Petry’s mobility, just as they need Weber in front of goalie Carey Price, around whom the team was built and on whom its success hinges. If Price is the one who shuts the door, Weber is the bouncer in front of it. Keeping with the metaphor, if the net were actually a club, it would be one of the worst in town, because nobody would be getting in under ideal circumstances.
More and more this season, all the fun is being had on the opposite end of that door, with the Habs having tightened things up defensively in recent games. They now sit 10th in the league, having allowed 2.63 goals per game. With six goals against over the last three games, things are trending further in the right direction there, Weber having played over 25 minutes in two of the three contests (23:09 in the other).
Weber’s 24:03 per game since the start of the season is further indication of his positive impact on the Habs. Now in his fifth season, he leads in that department much like he did in his first back in 2016-17. It would be hard to imagine him still leading by the end of his deal in 2026, at which point he’ll be on the verge of turning 41, but anything is possible. It’s becoming increasingly likely, however much Weber will actually be playing, that he’ll still be key to the team’s success in some way. Where there’s a will.
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 also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.