1. Shea Webber
It actually hasn’t been that long since Shea Weber has been to the All-Star Game. He’s only missed the last two and that was largely because of the effects of two major surgeries. Last time he was in the event in 2017, he won the hardest shot competition, as he’ll almost certainly do again when it is held tonight. But after what Weber has endured, it certainly seems like it’s been a long while.
Don’t look now, though, but at the age of 34 and with a clean bill of health, the Montreal Canadiens defenseman and captain has re-emerged as the Shea Weber of old. Over the course of his past 82 NHL games, he’s scored 19 goals and 50 points, which represents an outstanding full season by anyone’s standards. Even though he was not among the top three for Comeback Player of the Year in the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association’s mid-season awards, he should have been. Weber is on a pace for 54 points, which would be the second-highest total of his career, and is among 15 players in the NHL who are playing more than 24 minutes a game.
And even though he would never be one to brag about this, he’s also making those who believed the Canadiens were getting fleeced when they acquired Weber in exchange for P.K. Subban (guilty) look pretty foolish these days. Subban has been traded since that 2016 summer blockbuster and is foundering in New Jersey with a $9 million cap hit. Weber, meanwhile, is at least in the periphery of the Norris Trophy conversation.
So instead of begging off the All-Star Game the way a number of other veterans did this season, Weber was thrilled to be named to the game. It’s his seventh All-Star Game and, considering the circumstances, Weber is taking in and cherishing the experience a lot more now than he did earlier in his career when being selected for the All-Star Game was a given. “Everyone’s so young here,” Weber marveled. “More than anything, I’m just trying to enjoy it. You never know when it’s going to be your last one. Enjoy every minute…and just don’t take it for granted.”
As hard as it may be to believe, Weber is only in the eighth year of the 14-year offer sheet he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012 that was matched by the Nashville Predators. He has two more seasons after this one where his actual salary will be $6 million, then it goes down to $3 million in 2022-23 before dipping to just $1 million for each of the last three years of the deal. That makes it unlikely he’ll play out the deal, which would take him past his 40th birthday. And while the Canadiens have a promising group of prospects, they’re 10 points out of a playoff spot this season and have four teams to overcome, so they’re not going to be in the post-season this spring. And they don’t look as though they’ll be seriously competing for a Stanley Cup anytime soon. So there’s a very good chance Weber will play his career without winning a Cup, which means he’ll have to be content with individual honors such as playing in the All-Star Game at the age of 34.
“When you’re young, you don’t even realize how fast your career goes by,” Weber said. “Now you get a chance to do something like this you don’t want to miss out on it.”
Much of Weber’s travails the past two seasons have been because of major injuries. He was hit in the foot with a shot in the first game of the 2017-18 season and played through the pain before being shut down after 26 games to have tendon surgery on his left foot. That summer he also had right knee surgery that kept him out of the lineup until November. With a chance to prepare and train through the summer, Weber has been a force with the Canadiens, playing with equal aplomb at both ends of the ice. “With two major surgeries it’s not like you’re just going to come back and feel like yourself,” Weber said. “Last summer I got more time to prepare myself better and I’m feeling really good. Things are going well right now, but who knows. I’ll try to keep it going.”
So during the skills competition, Weber will take his Bauer 122 flex stick and try to win the hardest shot event for the fourth time. In 2016, he unleashed a blast of 108.5 miles per hour, which was close to the record of 108.8 established by Zdeno Chara. He won the competition in 2016 with a 108.1 reading and took it again the next year when he registered 102.8 miles per hour.
“I think everyone who is competitive puts a little pressure on themselves to win,” Weber said. “It’s fun and it’s a good time, but at the same time you want to do your best. Everyone wants to win.”
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