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Once healthy, Shea Weber’s value to the Canadiens remained high

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In his first season as the team’s captain, Weber made an impact upon his return.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Shea Weber entered his 2018-19 season debut with a lot of questions. It had been 11 months since his last game. He had turned 33 in August. He was named the team’s captain before the season started.

The team was surpassing all expectations at 11-8-5 at the time of his debut. They were getting good results, and the underlying numbers showed it was legitimate. When Weber came back, they got even better.

You can’t discuss Weber without acknowledging the baggage that his name carries. There is no nuance with the Canadiens’ captain. There are some who can’t shake who he was traded for. There are some who think criticism for the trade means that Weber is an awful player. There are some who question whether Weber remains the team’s number one defenceman.

In the end, Weber is still a really good NHL defenceman. While Jeff Petry gets more ice time at even strength, the former Predator gets the tougher matchups. In reality, they complement each other and it makes the team even better.

The team was doing well without their captain. Through 24 games, they were over 50% in most possession categories at even strength despite missing a major part of their team. The most common pairings with Weber out were Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn, Mike Reilly and Noah Juulsen, and Xavier Ouellet with Victor Mete. Eventually they swapped Mete and Benn which saw the team have an increase across the board.

Somehow that team was among the top possession teams in the NHL, and they got even better when Weber returned.

All statistics at 5v5 courtesy NaturalStatTrick.com
CF% - Shot Attempts | SF% - Shots on Goal | SCF% - Scoring Chances | HDCF% - High Danger Chances | xGF% - Expected Goals For

While the numbers look good and having over 50% of possession obviously means you are producing more than you allow it doesn’t quite show how substantial the gains the Canadiens actually made.

The team was consistently in the top-10 without Weber, but after his return they became one of the truly elite possession teams in the league in the top four of every category, improving a minimum of five rankings with their captain.

Despite this, Weber may no longer be widely considered among the best defencemen in hockey, although that may be in part to his injuries. He did not receive a vote for the Norris Trophy in 2018-19 (Zdeno Chara received votes despite playing only four more games, while Petry received one vote). He finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting in 2016-17, his last injury-free season when he played in 78 games. He was not named among the NHL Network’s top 20 defencemen in the NHL.

You simply cannot deny the difference he made on the team on the ice. The impact the captain brings goes beyond individual numbers and his ability to make the team better. There remains a presence with Weber that changes the dynamic for the better without even considering any impact he has on the team off the ice.

Despite what his individual numbers may say, Weber’s impact to his team remains elevated. Perhaps another healthy season gets him back in the top defencemen conversation.