Following the Montreal Canadiens’ second-round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, captain Shea Weber was far from in a celebratory mood. That’s at least the impression he gave, talking to the media after the 3-2 victory in Game 4.
Asked what the series win proved to the doubters, Weber was relatively curt (by anyone else’s standards anyway): “Nothing yet, to be honest. It doesn’t mean a whole lot. Obviously it’s a step in the right direction. We’re moving forward.”
Weber Moves Forward
True, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. And, while the Canadiens have had a successful season so far, even without the second-round win, there’s no real need for the Habs to pump the brakes and take where they are for granted. Under the circumstances though, Weber could be forgiven for cracking a smile. In private at home, in a dark closet, he may very well have, considering this marks the first time in his career that he’s reached Round 3.
It may seem ludicrous, but it’s the truth. The closest Weber came was in 2015-16, when the Predators came within one win of beating the San Jose Sharks in Round 2. They lost the decisive Game 7 by a 5-0 final score. Weber was on the ice for all three even-strength goals against. Obviously, chances are good that one performance didn’t factor into the decision (as Roman Josi was on the ice for the three goals too). Regardless, less than two months later, Weber was traded to the Habs for P.K. Subban, who helped the Predators break through the next season by reaching both the third round and the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
No one will ever really know if the Predators were simply on the cusp at that point and would have made it that far with Weber instead. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. For Weber, what followed were four seasons of relative frustration, including two non-playoff seasons in the middle. They were bookended by an embarrassing team effort from the outside looking in during a first-round defeat at the hands of the underdog New York Rangers in 2017 and an upstart playoff performance in 2020, when the Habs didn’t even deserve to be there, having made it as the league’s 24th-ranked team only due to the pandemic.
Canadiens Peak at Right Time
Still, those 2020 playoffs, in which the Canadiens’ youth led the charge offensively, showed signs of something special taking shape. After a largely mediocre 2020-21 regular season, it only took the Canadiens getting their backs plastered to the wall to the tune of a 3-1 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs for everything to gel as it should and, as numerous Canadiens have pointed out, everyone peaking at the same time. Weber’s no exception, with each and every analyst singing the praises of the Canadiens’ big four on defense (Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson) at this point.
Granted, those are the very same analysts that predicted a Leafs series victory… and then a Jets series victory, but the point stands: The Canadiens are playing undeniably well, from goaltender Carey Price, in spite of his 33 years of age, out. Now, with Weber 35 going on 36, it’s all the more reason for him to embrace the moment right now.
Weber may have five years left under contract, but there are no guarantees he’ll be back beyond Round 2, with the Canadiens last reaching this stage in 2014, seven years ago. To further illustrate the point, after Game 1 against the Jets, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was asked about the contributions of Corey Perry, Weber’s fellow veteran, to the team.
“We were down 3-1 against Toronto. We had a meeting and [Perry] stepped up and he talked a little bit about how often you get a chance to be in the playoffs and how rare it is,” Kotkaniemi said.
You can bet that goes double, if not triple for the third round… in spite of the fact Perry reached the Stanley Cup Final last summer with the Dallas Stars, of course. Obviously general manager Marc Bergevin loaded up on Stanley Cup-winning experience for just this occasion, and, while Weber doesn’t have any at the moment, he’s captain for a reason.
Probably at least part of it has to do with positioning the trade that brought him to town as a success, with management naming Weber captain instead of the players through a vote. However, there’s no disputing Weber does lead by example. It’s at least hard to imagine him as the vocal type, anyway. Regardless, if they haven’t yet, critics of the trade can now take a step forward as well and move past it, like Weber just has Round 2. There’s simply no more reason to complain, just celebrate… even though the Habs themselves are just halfway there. It justifiably feels more momentous than that, though.
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.