PHILADELPHIA — A season of seemingly never-ending turmoil for the Montreal Canadiens took another downward turn on Monday when it was made clear that Shea Weber’s recovery from a left-foot injury wasn’t going according to plan.
The word setback never came up in Canadiens coach Claude Julien’s post-practice comments, but when he was asked whether or not his top defenceman would be able to return before season’s end, he couldn’t give a definitive answer.
“All I can tell you is he’s not comfortable in his skate right now,” said Julien. “There’s still some small issues, so he’s being re-evaluated again by doctors, by specialists to really see what they can do to help him come back. I don’t know; I’m a coach, not a doctor. I haven’t been told one way or another what’s happening, and he’s back in Montreal, so we’ll have to see with time and that’s basically all I can tell you right now.”
What Julien would be wise to say is that the team is going to shut down Weber for the rest of the regular season.
The Canadiens are 24 games from the finish line and have virtually no reason to put Weber back on the ice before all of them are played. They’re currently in 29th place in the NHL, 13 points out of the final wild-card position in the Eastern Conference and 26 points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division, and exposing him to further injury under those circumstances would be ill-advised at best.
The Canadiens also have a legitimate chance at drafting first overall this summer. One that will get considerably better if the seven-point gap between them and the 31st-place Arizona Coyotes is bridged before the playoffs begin. Plugging a fully recovered Weber back in at any point would only get in the way of that pursuit.
The good news is that Julien outright dismissed the idea that Weber would return at anything less than full health.
“I would tell you we’re never going to push,” the coach said. “That’s why we shut him down, because we weren’t going to push him through that injury. So in order for him to come back, he’s gotta be at 100 per cent. So we’re not going to push him to come back if he’s not at a 100 per cent. That’s what we’re trying to get to, and that’s the answer I don’t have for you — whether he can or he can’t. One thing is, we’re not going to push him.
“You don’t go this far and then all of a sudden change strategy.”
What we know is that Weber suffered this injury early on in the season — some have speculated it happened in Montreal’s very first game when Weber blocked a Jack Eichel shot in Buffalo on Oct. 5 — and that he played through it until the Canadiens made the wise decision to shut him down on Dec. 18.
Weber was returned to Montreal from Vancouver and he was placed in a walking boot for several weeks. He finally came out of it early on in February and resumed skating on his own at the team’s south-shore practice facility shortly thereafter.
But it was before the Canadiens departed last Monday for their four-game road trip through Colorado, Arizona and Las Vegas that Weber had skipped a couple of days of skating. And it was made clear on Monday in Philadelphia that things weren’t progressing well in his recovery.
The obvious concern is how this injury might affect Weber’s long-term future — or if it will at all. The 32-year-old, who has six goals and 10 assists in 26 games this season, carries a $7.86-million annual cap hit through 2026.
It’s fair to say the Canadiens are depending on Weber to be their anchor on the blue line for the foreseeable future.
“I’m not fully aware of every little detail in his situation,” said Julien. “I’m not in Montreal so I don’t have any idea of how we’ll proceed.”
Canadiens fans should hope the team will proceed with extreme caution in this case. They don’t need any more turmoil.