Closing the book on the Shea Weber era in Montreal

Almost six years ago to the day, the Montreal Canadiens shook the hockey world and their fans with a gesture that would define the franchise for years to come. In a wild hour that saw Steven Stamkos re-sign to Tampa Bay and Taylor Hall infamously traded ‘one for one’ to Edmonton, the Canadiens perhaps surprised everyone the most.

Gone was fan favorite and Norris Trophy winner PK Subban to the Nashville Predators, and in return came the grizzled look and thunderous shot of Shea Weber. As in all hockey trades, there is always an immediate rush to name a winner and a loser in trades, and at the time, this writer considered the Canadians to have lost the trade immediately afterwards. Subban was younger, had better metrics, and was loved by the majority of fans.

However, over time, that original thought began to change as Subban’s injuries piled up and he was eventually traded from Nashville to New Jersey. Although still a hugely popular figure, Subban was unable to maintain his peak form after being traded out of Montreal.

Weber battled horrific lower-body injuries that cost him part of several seasons in Montreal. He kept his best for his last two seasons, however, playing a vital role in a bubble upset by the Pittsburgh Penguins, then for his last act playing a mountain of minutes as the Canadians narrowly missed the Cup final. Stanley against the Tampa. Bay Lightning.

And then that was it.

Not even a month after the Habs were eliminated, news broke that Weber likely played his last hockey game in the fifth loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played through a serious lower-body injury, through lord knows what kind of pain over several playoff rounds, and who knows how many more months before that.

But hockey is cruel and the outings of the game aren’t always glamorous. For Weber, his departure after being less than three Stanley Cup wins is almost unfair. With over 1,000 games played in the NHL and nearly 100 playoff games to add, it was the closest he’s ever come to winning hockey’s ultimate prize.

Even his 1,000th NHL game took place in any empty NHL arena, where he displayed rare humor as he waved to nonexistent fans after a video tribute. But, as I said, hockey is a particularly cruel sport and that is how she proceeds.

This leaves the question unanswered: 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 part well, but the Canadian as a whole built himself with a play-based mindset that quickly fell behind. A ‘man mountain’ was once the highest form of defenseman, but was becoming a rarity in a faster-paced NHL, and his general manager was not doing what was necessary to isolate him and make up for the lack of speed and transition skills. .

Weber’s arrival also apparently marked the end of the previous era in Montreal, as many called for him to take the captaincy over incumbent Max Pacioretty, who had been named captain over Subban following a team voting. 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 enjoyed great success in the early 2010s 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 much of his time as Habs captain, but in his final two years Weber and the Habs have unlikely made the playoffs. While they won a Western Conference title, the Stanley Cup still eluded them, Weber was forced into more or less retirement and the man who traded him, Marc Bergevin, was fired as the team fell to last place.

You could say Weber was a loyal Canadian, and we were put in a job he never asked for. For his flaws and his strengths, he did everything he could to try to steer the team towards their goal. In the end, he, like many others, saw his journey come to an end before the summit. There’s no shame in that given how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup. He was in Montreal during a tumultuous time, providing some form of stability on a metaphorical rough sea, and he brought the franchise one step closer to a Cup in nearly three decades. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s not catastrophic either.

Now the Canadiens, under the watchful eyes of Kent Hughes, Jeff Gorton and Martin St. Louis. enter their next chapter. It’s a fresh start with a new narrative being written as young stars like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield take the reins as new leaders in Montreal. It’s hard to see a player like Weber unable to come out on his own terms, but time waits for no one, not even a Man Mountain.

Happy Shea trails. It was quite a ride.

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