When you have a 13-year NHL veteran, a defenceman who has collected over 500 points in over 800 games, a former recipient of the NHL’s Mark Messier Leadership Award, a six-time NHL All-Star, a former captain of the Nashville Predators and a two-time Olympic gold medalist in your room, you don’t hesitate to stitch the fabled ‘C’ onto his sweater.
“It was an obvious choice,” said Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on Monday. “We were unanimous and we had the pulse of the room.”
The players may not have had an actual say in the decision—it was management’s call—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a single one of them who would object to having the 33-year-old, 6-foot-4 mountain of a man, who casts as big of a shadow off the ice as he does on it, serve in the role.
“If it had been put to a vote, he’d have gotten mine,” said forward Andrew Shaw on Monday.
“He’s the stabilizer,” said defenceman Karl Alzner. “He sets the tone at all times. He plays 30 minutes a night and then goes to the gym to work out; if he’s doing it, everyone else needs to do it. He’s the pulse of this team. If he says, ‘Jump,’ we’re all going to jump. And that’s what you need in a leader. You need a guy that commands that type of respect.”
Would Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, a diminutive, heart-and-soul player who’d never ask anyone to do what he himself would be unwilling to do, have been a good choice? Absolutely.
But the 26-year-old Edmonton native, who has collected 118 goals and 239 points in six seasons with the Canadiens, doesn’t quite have Weber’s pedigree. Neither does Paul Byron, who along with Gallagher will serve as one of Weber’s two assistants this season.
Both players are key leaders on this team, but Weber’s presence is of a different ilk.
“Players seem to gravitate to him and he’s earned the respect,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien of Weber. “Not only from the coaching staff; he’s also earned the respect from the players. And as I often say, ‘You don’t demand it, you earn it,’ and I think that’s what he’s done over the time that he’s been with us here.”
There’s no questioning that when you evaluate the 104 games Weber has played with the franchise since being traded to the Canadiens from the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2016. He’s been a big contributor, scoring 23 goals and notching 58 points over that time.
Weber has also commanded respect with the way he’s conducted himself off of the ice.
“He really took me under his wing last year,” said 20-year-old Victor Mete. “It was huge. He invited me over to his house for dinner because he knew I was always eating out from staying in a hotel while trying to make the team. He invited me a couple of times, cooked me steaks, and he was almost like a father figure to me. He treated me from Day 1 like I belonged here. That was huge for my confidence.”
“The first time I met him was the day I got called up [on Feb. 22 of last season],” said 21-year-old Noah Juulsen. “He was hurt at the time. Just a couple of us were skating that morning and he came in the room and spent 15 minutes just talking to me about my first game in the NHL. I was kind of in awe. I knew right then what kind of leader he was. The guy who comes in and wants to talk to a young guy on his first day? That was huge for me. Just getting a little confidence booster before the game was what I needed. Hearing it from him was just surreal.”
Just as it must have been surreal for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the third overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, to get a phone call from Weber just minutes after pulling on a Canadiens sweater for the very first time.
It’s the kind of influence the Sicamous, B.C., native can continue to have while he recovers from off-season knee surgery that threatens to keep him out of games until mid-December.
As for all the other responsibility that comes with being captain in Montreal—the daily sessions with the media, the community outreach, the pressure to learn French, the pressure to live up to his billing as a player—Weber said he’s prepared for it.
And his reaction when Bergevin and Julien informed him of their decision to make his name synonymous with those of legends like Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Bob Gainey, who all served as captains of the Canadiens?
“It really is an honour,” Weber said. “I don’t know if you can put it into words. You say it’s an honour, obviously, it’s an honour because you look at the guys in our dressing room—guys that have won and have worn this letter in this organization’s history—and it’s special. When I heard the news, I wasn’t expecting to hear it. I was kind of caught off guard, and I was excited and elated to be with this group of guys and help lead them back to success.”
Did Weber have to be named captain immediately in order to do that? Not necessarily. He is under contract until 2026.
There also may have been value in pushing this decision down the road, for when the Canadiens are further along in their reset and better suited to contend.
But Julien poured cold water on that, and with good reason.
“If we didn’t have anyone who we believed would be capable of being captain, we wouldn’t have wanted to name one just for the sake of naming one. I’d have prefered we hold off,” the coach said. “But with what we have with Shea, it’s obvious we have a good candidate for captain. We made this decision today because Shea has what it takes.”