During the early afternoon, rumours were starting to circle on Twitter that Shea Weber’s injury would be much worse than expected. In fact, the wildest rumours before he went in to see a trusted medical expert in Wisconsin suggested that his career may even be over.
Quickly, Montreal went out to poke a hole in the rampant speculation with a newsflash of their own, stating that their captain would miss the upcoming four to six weeks, which leaves the possibility for a return later in the year.
At this moment, we do not know how severe the conditions of the injury are or whether there was any legitimate truth to the earlier rumours. What it does mean is that an already weak defence will be even weaker for the remainder of the season. After Wednesday night’s loss against the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves even further away from playoff contention, operating from seven points back with three-quarters of the season behind us and more games played than any team above in the Eastern Conference.
In the most optimistic of Habs circles, there was a slight shimmer of hope that this team, once healthy, could go on a run to squeeze into a wild-card spot. Weber’s absence — one of not only a steadfast member on the Habs’ shaky blueline but the captain and leader — has put an end to that. This defence is not strong enough to create a winning team in the NHL with Weber, let alone without.
Instead, these next two weeks will be The Marc Bergevin Show. Will he keep his team intact hoping for better things in the future, or will he finally admit that this team is still a few years away from contending and start selling off assets to further strengthen the prospect pool?
My hopes are that he senses the desperation in the market and cashes in. Earlier this week, the Minnesota Wild got back a haul of a first-round-pick, a top prospect, and a middle-six rental in Alex Galchenyuk from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jason Zucker. Zucker is not a bad player by any means, being on a 50-point pace if he were to play this whole season. Also, the first-round-pick comes with conditions for the 2020 NHL Draft and could possibly be postponed, and would likely be a late one in either year. Still, this means that it is worth exploring thoroughly how the trade landscape views players like Tomas Tatar, Jeff Petry and Ilya Kovalchuk, as well as less valuable rentals like Marco Scandella and Nate Thompson.
Tatar is having a stellar year, already eclipsing the 50-point mark ahead of the trade deadline. Petry could very well be the best right-handed defenceman on the market. Kovalchuk may be old, but imagine if a cap-strained contender could get a player with power-play pedigree and point-per-game potential for about $150,000. Which of the 20 teams still hoping to make a run to the Stanley Cup would pass that option up?
Personally, it aches writing these lines as I have grown fond of the players I just mentioned, but from a team-building standpoint this is a no-brainer. Earlier this week, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic ranked Montreal’s current prospect pool as the second-best in the league. If only a handful of these highly touted youngsters turn into NHL assets, the Canadiens will have a core to build on for years to come. Unfortunately, there are few scenarios where the players listed above will be taking part once that future finally arrives.
It’s better to sell high now and get significant building blocks back instead of just postponing what is clearly inevitable for one more season.