Most people wouldn’t be able to deal with the pressure that comes with being traded to an intense hockey market for a player who was one of the most beloved players on said team in decades.
Shea Weber isn’t most people.
Weber came into Montreal with some lofty expectations from the organization, the media, and the fans to be a great asset on the blue line given the steep price paid to extract his services from Nashville. He came in with a reputation of being a hard-hitting, positionally sound, patient defenceman while having one of the league’s deadliest slapshots from the point to help Montreal’s ever-struggling power play. It’s safe to say that the Canadiens knew what they were getting into with Weber when they acquired him.
It would be hard to argue that Weber didn’t have a significant impact on the Canadiens in his first year. He started the season on fire with 18 points in his first 25 games played, one of the best starts of his career. His production helped propel the Habs to a league-leading 36 points, achieved with a record of 17 wins, six losses, and two overtime defeats.
In total, Weber made appearances in 78 games for the Canadiens this season, tallying 17 goals and 42 points during that time, 22 of which were on the man advantage. He logged an average of 25:03 of ice time per game, the most on the team with the next highest being Jeff Petry at 22:06.
Amidst a season that fluctuated drastically with different coaches and a new team altogether, Weber did manage to keep himself afloat possession wise. The majority of the season he spent above a 50% shot-attempts-for percentage, with notable low points that include a mid-season collapse which resulted in Michel Therrien’s firing, as well as a second adjustment period to Claude Julien’s new system. Weber finished the season with a 51.47% CF% which was third-best among the defence behind Jeff Petry and Andrei Markov.
A lot was made on Weber’s positive impact on his teammates and “leadership” in the locker room. While there isn’t a statistic that measures such a thing, we can get an approximate idea of how Shea Weber affected his teammates’ scoring last season.
The only two teammates who did worse with Weber as a teammate in five-on-five goals per 60 minutes were traded at the deadline: David Desharnais and Sven Andrighetto. Other than that, it was net-positive for everyone he played with in that regard.
Weber isn’t much of a possession-driving, puck-handling defenceman, and stylistically didn’t change much in his first season with the Habs. However the biggest challenge for Weber this season had nothing to do with him but who to put him with. Weber is locked into a first-pairing spot, but finding the perfect defensive partner to complement his game has proven challenging for GM Marc Bergevin to accomplish.
In the pre-season the first choice was Nathan Beaulieu, who was thought to be the best match for Weber’s game. However with Beaulieu experiencing some inconsistent play this year, the Habs mainly paired Weber up with Alexei Emelin (859:56) or Andrei Markov (304:49). Markov hits unrestricted free agency this summer, and it is unknown if the Habs will re-sign him. Emelin is coming off a recent knee surgery, and while he had a consistent year this year — especially with Weber — the expansion draft is looming around the corner and the organization must decide whether he is worth protecting. The Canadiens look like they are expecting to lose someone at the left defensive position, seeing as they recently signed KHL defenceman Jakub Jarabek to a one-year deal.
A lot of fans are hoping for young defenceman Mikhail Sergachev to come in and play those minutes. This solution poses a lot of questions, including the debate whether Segachev is even NHL-ready yet, and if so, should you pair him on the first line with Weber right away? The most probable answer to that is that won’t be the option, given the organization’s historical tendency to develop defenceman in the minor leagues for a longer period, but there haven’t been many prospects with the offensive talents of Sergachev in recent years.
Shea Weber has become one of the most important players on Montreal’s roster. Barring any drastic drop in production, he will most likely bring the same sort of consistency next year that he did this year, perhaps to an even greater degree with a better understanding of the market and aleady some experience with Julien’s game plan.
The same questions with Weber will always remain. Will he be able to keep pace with some of the league’s faster forwards? How many years does he have left before his production starts winding down? How long will it be before his style becomes outdated? One thing that is for certain is that the Habs need Weber in order to make a run for Lord Stanley’s hardware, and his first season shows that he has a lot he can offer to the team.
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