As we head into training camp for the 2021-22 NHL season, the Habs team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993 has changed significantly in just a few short months. Among the most drastic is the loss of captain Shea Weber to long term injury. Weber was not just a top pairing defenceman for the Canadiens throughout their playoff run, but a fierce competitor and a player that led by the power of his example.
The loss of Weber is going to hurt on and off the ice. We’re talking about one of the most respected leaders across the National Hockey League. Marc Bergevin himself labelled Weber irreplaceable, even as he signed his ostensible replacement David Savard to a four year, 3.5-million-dollar contract.
Savard may bring some of the on-ice qualities that Weber has shown throughout his career. He will be a big, net-clearing presence and he brings the experience of having just won his first Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He does not, however, fill the gap left by Weber’s leadership. Since Max Pacioretty was traded away for a surprisingly good return (a little Nick Suzuki anyone?), this has become Weber’s team through and through. He, perhaps along with Carey Price, has been its undeniable leader. Weber demonstrated those leadership qualities when he defended his goalie in a press conference after they lost to the Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Weber played through some hard times in Montreal, with the club failing to make the playoffs for multiple years. He also presided over the deepest playoff run this city has seen since 1993, and we have since been informed that he did so while playing through multiple career threatening injuries. When Marc Bergevin was asked in a press conference whether there would be an interim captain this year, he quickly made it clear that that wasn’t even an option.
Considering Weber’s undeniable position at the helm of this team, who then remains to fill his shoes. Brendan Gallagher is the heart and soul of the team, giving all of himself every night and doing it with a smile on his face. Jeff Petry has been the only defenceman capable of stepping up and proving he has the capacity to perform as a number one defenceman when Weber has been injured. Paul Byron knows all about adversity and hard work, being in constant threat of demotion while wearing an A on his chest.
And finally, Carey Price. Price is the backbone of this team when the cards are down. Price is at his best when the games matter most, and his teams have always played at their best when he is at the top of his game. The entire leadership core will be called on to do their part to steer the young talent of this team in the right direction.
None of these players can replace Weber alone, but as the leadership core of this group, they will have to try. This team will surely miss Weber’s legendary leadership, but these are the moments when new leaders are born. Most of the players on this team have played with Weber as their captain. This season, they will have to show that they have learned from his example. If his leadership can shine through even in his absence, then his legend will only grow.