Almost six years ago to the day, the Montreal Canadiens shook the hockey world and their fanbase with move that would define the franchise for the years to follow. In a wild hour that saw Steven Stamkos re-sign in Tampa Bay and Taylor Hall be infamously traded “one for one” to Edmonton, the Canadiens might have surprised everyone the most.
Gone was fan favourite and Norris Trophy-winner P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators, and in return came the grizzled glare and thundering shot of Shea Weber. As with all hockey trades there is always an immediate rush to name a winner and a loser in deals, and at the time this writer pegged the Habs as having lost the trade in the immediate aftermath. Subban was younger, had better metrics, and was beloved by a majority of the fanbase.
However, as time went on that original thought began to shift as Subban’s injuries piled up and he was eventually traded from Nashville to New Jersey. While still an intensely popular figure, Subban hadn’t been able to maintain his peak form after he was traded out of Montreal.
Weber battled through horrendous lower-body injuries that cost him parts of multiple seasons in Montreal. He saved his best for his final two seasons, however, playing an integral role in a bubble upset over the Pittsburgh Penguins,then for his last act playing a mountain of minutes as the Canadiens came up just short in the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And then, that was it.
Not even a month after the Canadiens were eliminated, the news came out that Weber had likely played his last game of hockey in that Game 5 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played through a serious lower-body injury, through lord knows what kind of pain over the course of multiple playoff rounds, and who knows how many other months before that.
But, hockey is cruel and exits from the game aren’t always glamorous. For Weber, his exit after coming within three wins of a Stanley Cup is almost unfair. With over 1000 NHL games played, and nearly 100 playoff games on top of that, this was the closest he had ever come to winning hockey’s ultimate prize.
Even his 1000th NHL game was in any empty NHL arena, where he showed a rare bit of humour as he waved to the non-existent fans following a video tribute. But, as I said, hockey is an especially cruel sport and that’s the way she goes.
That leaves the lingering question: What is Shea Weber’s legacy in Montreal?
It’s a complicated question with an even more complicated answer at the end of the day. Weber was brought in to complete Marc Bergevin’s vision of what a Stanley Cup contender should be. For his flaws, Weber played his role well, but the Canadiens as a whole were constructed with a mindset based on a game that was rapidly being left behind. A “mountain of a man” was once the highest form of defender, but was becoming a rarity in a faster-paced NHL, and his GM wasn’t doing what was required to insulate him and compensate for the lack of footspeed and transition skill.
Weber’s arrival also seemingly marked the end of the previous era in Montreal, as many called for him to take the captaincy over the incumbent Max Pacioretty, who had been named the captain over Subban following a team vote. Pacioretty was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar, while Weber, as expected, took the C for the Canadiens. The team that had found great success in the early 2010’s was now all but gone with Pacioretty and Subban traded, and their loss was felt as Montreal struggled to find consistency in the following years.
Injuries and COVID robbed Weber of a large portion of time as the Canadiens’ captain, but in his final two years Weber and the Habs improbably made the playoffs. While they captured a Western Conference title, the Stanley Cup still eluded them, Weber was forced to more or less retire, and the man who traded for him, Marc Bergevin, was fired as the team foundered to last place.
You can say Weber was a loyal Canadien, and one put in a spot he never asked to be. For his flaws and his strengths, he did whatever he could to try to steer the team toward its goal. In the end, he, like many others, saw his journey end short of the summit. There’s no shame in that given how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup. He was in Montreal for a tumultuous period, providing some form of stability on metaphorical rough seas, and he brought the franchise the closest it’s been to a Cup in almost three decades. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s not disastrous by any means either.
Now the Canadiens, under the watchful gaze of Kent Hughes, Jeff Gorton, and Martin St. Louis. enter into their next chapter. It’s a new beginning with a new narrative being written as the young stars like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield take the reins as the new leaders in Montreal. It’s tough to see a player like Weber unable to go out on his own terms, but time waits for no man, not even a Man Mountain.
Happy trails Shea. It was quite a ride.