When the Montreal Canadiens played in Nashville last week, Shea Weber featured prominently in the Habs' impressive victory. Yet, more than simply appreciating the skills and effort that the veteran Weber put on display that night, the fans, media, and maybe even his new teammates used the occasion to talk about, and to recognize, something bigger.
In the public chatter leading up to and following the game, Habs observers rightfully zoned in on Weber. And, with Weber's past accomplishments and reputation informing the reflections that were made on the significance of his first game in Nashville after last summer's trade, a subtle yet certain narrative was told. With Weber in the fold, the Habs have arrived to a new and optimistic present and future.
Accompanying the transition storyline implicit in last week's Weber discourse, one specific detail, confirmed prior to the game itself, stood out. Many Habs fans disliked the Subban-Weber trade because of the players' comparative ages. But, the fact that Subban was injured for their first on-ice meeting signified, at least temporarily, that the Habs did not lose out completely in last June's controversial move.
To be fair, the age gap continues to suggest that the Predators stand to gain the most from the trade over the long-run. Yet, seeing the older Shea Weber in the game, and being wildly effective, while P.K. Subban sat in the press box, provided a short-term answer to give to anyone still ruminating about the damaging effects of time on hockey players' bodies. At least for this one game, when the spotlight was on, Weber’s age could not be criticized.
I know well that the accidental happenstance of injury will do nothing to convert Habs fans who, understandably, continue to oppose the trade. There’s much more to last week’s story than just that.
Following all the talk that the Canadiens' on- and off-ice ice woes last season partially stemmed from a lack of credible leadership among the players, everybody knew that Weber was expected to help fill the perceived void. Though there was no shortage of early declarations and endorsements of Weber's leadership pedigree, last week's reporting ratcheted up the praise even more. And, in the specific tales of what Weber does to exert a constructive authority on his new teammates, a 'Habs are in a new and improved zone' performance was once again presented.
Even with a lot of the focus directed towards his locker-room presence, and also to the legacy of the charity work that he performed in Nashville, the most telling realization about Weber's leadership emerged from last week's disclosure that his new Canadiens teammates have been respectfully and affectionately referring to him as 'Dad.'
Though nobody wrote or said it directly and in detail, the connotation and particular importance of a 'dad' to this Habs group is entirely clear. For if there were any truth to the officially stated concerns that last year’s Habs were just a bit too loose to stay focused on the right priorities, what could be a better antidote than to bring in a player who, with a fatherly authority, would almost instantly be able to help settle the group down?
It's not without significance then that Weber was celebrated last week for the paternal identity that he brought with him to Montreal. In welcoming and following his direction, his Canadiens' teammates have permitted Weber to help them concentrate on meeting their collective expectations. In the glowing accounts that were offered last week, the respect that Weber's commanded as 'dad' has been eagerly given over to him.
Also highlighted in last week's homage to Weber were aspects of his oft-discussed psychic-emotional profile. In reading these accounts, it was impossible not to imagine this part of the Weber package in the rehabilitation of the Habs' team psyche this season.
In both anticipating and experiencing the tribute that he was given last week, Weber was recognized for deflecting all of the attention away from himself. What's really relevant here is not that he didn't want to be the centre of attention. It's more that he basically admitted to being uninterested in experiencing and expressing the emotions that he undoubtedly felt.
If ever there was a group of hockey players that stood to benefit from reining in their emotions and adding a little self-discipline, it had to have been the Montreal Canadiens group of last season.
Whether it was the off-ice distractions of October and mid-season, the expressions of frustration that erupted at times and in places where poise was the norm, or the persistent yet not substantiated rumours of unresolved discord between players in the dressing room, it frequently appeared as though last year's Habs too readily allowed themselves to wear their hearts on their collective sleeve.
From the perspective that the events of last season added up to a pattern that was in need of correction, Weber’s acquisition, as well as the particular kudos that he was given last week, once again makes perfect sense.
Although my psychologist may emphatically object, Weber's conscious decision to remain coolly detached from his emotions was lauded last week as a highly valuable skill that allows him to shut out all the noise and to concentrate on the business of playing hockey. Believing that their group of players needed to be much better at controlling and compartmentalizing their own emotions, and always fearful of the consequences of negative publicity on franchise reputation, acquiring Weber was a no-brainer for Habs management.
So, in the feting that Weber received last week, yet another symbolic separation between the past and the present was established. With a boost from Shea Weber modelling his own emotion management, the Habs have all but erased concerns about the alleged group dysfunction that may have dragged them down only one short year ago. Happily coinciding with the collective transition they've made to outwardly displaying Weber's professional stoicism, the Habs have mastered the business of playing consistently winning hockey.
Now, before decisive declarations can be drawn regarding historical transformations for the Montreal Canadiens, an actual Bell Centre matchup between Weber and Subban will definitely be required. Furthermore, recent prominent outcries have most certainly shown that not everybody is happy to see a new Habs era eclipse the old.
Then again, this is a time in which even last week's decision by the Canadiens to protect Subban's honour by surrendering to fan protests that its Twitter account had posted offensive photos must actually be read as one final sign that the club has officially turned the page. For if the Canadiens organization were defined more by Subban's much revered playful spirit than by Weber's apparently sole and rigid loyalty to the seriousness of the business of hockey, then the obviously humorous and warm-hearted images would have neither been taken as offensive by some its fans nor ever have been removed.