BROSSARD, Que., — It’s fairly evident what the Montreal Canadiens will be missing in Shea Weber’s lengthy absence to start the season, but no one can be entirely sure about what the big man will be capable of when he returns from his injuries.
At his best he’s one of the most feared defencemen in the world. A take-no-prisoners type who does nearly everything at an elite level. A player who’s scored at least 15 goals in nine of 13 seasons. A player who’s also built up a reputation as one of the most effective leaders in the game.
But Weber is also a 33-year-old playing in an NHL that’s graduating 18 and 19-year-olds at an unprecedented rate. He is also a player who’s never been considered fleet of foot, and he’s playing in a league that now moves at warp speed.
And he’s a player who’s logged many hard miles. One who has played the bulk of his 867 NHL games as a top pairing defenceman forced to endure upwards of 30 punishing minutes of ice time per game.
Considering that, it’s only natural to wonder whether Weber still has what it takes to consistently play at the level we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him. And you can’t really blame anyone for wondering if he’ll be less effective once he’s finally able to return from two off-season surgeries that have hampered his summer training and forced him into a situation where he’ll have to play catch up.
The thing is, the Sicamous, B.C., native isn’t sweating this challenge.
“I’m confident in my body and in what it’s done for me before,” Weber told Sportsnet on Thursday. “I’m confident that I can come back just as good if not stronger from just doing the rehab and having these problems fixed. Hopefully it even makes me better for the long run and can improve my durability moving forward.”
That would be a bonus considering Weber has eight years left on a contract that pays him an average of $7.87 million per season.
But for now the Canadiens would settle for an on-schedule return from the June surgery he underwent to repair the meniscus in his right knee.
When Weber was asked earlier in the week about the complicated March procedure he underwent to fix tendons in his right ankle, he’s almost fully healed and that his ankle, “feels amazing.” Just seeing him walk around on Thursday you’d never know anything was ever wrong with it.
Same goes for his knee. But Weber’s admits rehabilitation from that surgery has been particularly trying.
“Obviously the hardest part was not being able to bear weight on my leg for six weeks,” he said. “That was the hardest six weeks for me maybe ever. And I’d go in and train and was able to do some stuff, but it’s hard not being able to do what you know you’re capable of doing. But now those times are over and I’m looking forward to getting back in there and doing what I know I can.”
Is Weber concerned about how hard it might be to catch up once he finally does return?
“For sure it’ll be a challenge, but that’s what you put the time in for,” he said. “All you can do is give yourself the best opportunity, and that means getting yourself ready. Even in practices I’m going to have to get used to the pace. It’s probably going to take a few games to get used to it. I don’t expect to come in and be fully dominant right away.”
But a couple of Weber’s teammates who we spoke to on Thursday don’t believe it will be long before he’s back to himself.
Canadiens defenceman Karl Alzner spent time training with Weber in Kelowna, B.C., over the summer and came away impressed with what he could even in his limited capacity.
“I haven’t seen too many guys that are built the way he is,” Alzner said. “I worked out with him in the summer and he was still better at a lot of things that we were doing—and he hasn’t been able to train the way we have.”
Canadiens winger Paul Byron said on Thursday that he’s in awe of what Weber is capable of and added that he expects to see him return at full force.
“I think he had six goals and nearly 20 points in 20 games last year (it was six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in 26 games), and he did it on a broken foot and a bad knee,” said Byron. “So I think he’ll be just fine. I think he’ll be the best he’s been in a few years when he gets back.
“I think the way he plays and the intelligence he plays with kind of reminds me a bit of [Hall of Famer] Chris Pronger. He doesn’t rely on speed; he relies on body position and he relies on a good stick. I think if you asked a lot of players which side they want to come down, they’re avoiding his side of the ice at all costs, and that won’t change. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Perhaps the rest will even do Weber some good.
“I guess we’ll find out,” he said. “It definitely let my body heal up in other spots where I’ve had aches and pains from over the years. But I guess time will tell us if the rest was beneficial.”
Just as time will tell if Weber can be who the Canadiens need him to be come December.