The Montreal Canadiens won’t be participating in the playoffs, so on Thursday it was announced that Shea Weber is set to undergo surgery to repair a tear in a tendon in his left foot, ending his season.
˝Following the diagnosis of Shea Weber’s injury, it was our belief that after a comprehensive rehabilitation protocol under the guidance of our medical team, Shea would be able to return to play this season,” said the team’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul Martineau in a statement. “Unfortunately, after extensive efforts to heal Shea’s injury, progress has not been made as expected. After further exams, and a consultation on Wednesday in Green Bay, Wisconsin with specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, and with Shea’s approval, it has been determined that he should undergo surgery and will be out for the reminder of the season.
“Our medical group will work with Shea to ensure he is pursuing the best course of treatment moving forward, and we expect him to make a full recovery and be ready for the start of training camp next season. The length of his recovery will be determined following surgery, which will be performed by Dr. Anderson.”
The 32-year-old Weber has not played a game since the Dec. 16 outdoor game in Ottawa. Last week, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said the defenseman’s foot still wasn’t comfortable in his skate and was going get it evaluated to determine a path to recovery. Surgery is now the only way back.
Weber only played 26 games this season, scoring six goals and recording 16 points. It’s the most time he’s missed since 2007-08 when he suffered a pair of leg injuries while with the Nashville Predators. The Habs’ season is long gone, so there’s no reason to put the blue liner, who still has six more seasons left on his contract, at risk.
Every now and then, it seems like the tortoise-like pace of progress in the NHL might actually pick up.
Look at the way the game is played. Scoring is up significantly this season, with franchises being more and more willing to dress four talented lines of forwards, rather than wasting valuable minutes on enforcers and other puck-stoppers. We’re seeing less dump-and-chase and more emphasis on skill.
We’re even seeing fewer big-money mistakes in free agency; even some of the missteps are easier to defend than the days of Jeff Finger and Bobby Holik getting “They gave him how much?” deals.
(Actually, for many in the case of Finger, the question was “Jeff who?”)
Yet whenever you get too excited about change, collars get a little stiffer on the country club, and you remember that progress isn’t always a straight line.
This week was one of those moments of “course correction,” as two of the messiest teams in the league handed their GMs contract extensions in the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks. It’s tough to deny that the NHL is simply more insular than other, more innovative leagues.
sneak peek at the pie charts for our research into the background of your favourite team's general manager. Where do these guys come from?
Still, there’s evidence that NHL teams deal with a “Yes man” culture that rears its head in disastrous ways. You’d think there would be more debate, for example, over the Bruins’ notorious decision to trade Tyler Seguin:
“They didn’t tell me it was over that,” Pfeffer said in July 2016. “But I guess everyone knows now where I stood on the Subban-Weber trade. There are times when there’s some possibility that there would be another side to the argument, but this was one of those things where it was so, so far outside what could be considered reasonable. I made a pretty strong case, but I made the case that the analytics made. This wasn’t a personal thing.”
There are several examples of a “one step forward, two steps backward” pace when it comes to outsiders getting voices in NHL organizations. The Florida Panthers, at times, seem to represent the worst of both worlds. They briefly placed emphasis on analytics, with head coach Gerard Gallant being pushed out in the process. That only really lasted a season – really, less – before GM Dale Tallon regained true power, and then he cleaned out many of those contract, emboldening the Vegas Golden Knights in the process.
There have been movement to scoop up analytics minds like the memorable summer of 2014, and then there has been backlash, most dramatically in the case of the Panthers.
It’s crucial to realize that there’s not necessarily “one way” to do things, even as narratives about “old-school” philosophies battling with analytics even continue in the MLB, a sport that often seems light years ahead of the NHL. All but the least reasonable advocates on “each side” will agree that there’s valuable to many different approaches.
The real danger is in cronyism, as Jonathan Willis expertly discussed for The Athletic (sub required), while making a fascinating comparison to how France prepared for WWI (as he’s wont to do). Willis describes the best-practice process of very-much-connected Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who’s distinguished himself as one of the league’s best minds:
Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning offers a useful example. He has some old colleagues from his time in Detroit there, including former teammates Pat Verbeek and Stacy Roest, though Verbeek mostly played for non-Red Wings teams and Roest mostly played in the minors and Europe as a pro.
But his top lieutenant is Julien Brisebois, the lawyer who worked his way into a hockey operations role in Montreal and did such fine work running their AHL team. His head coach is another lawyer, Jon Cooper, who took an unconventional path to the majors. The team employs a statistical analyst, Michael Peterson, who has history in baseball, an MBA and a master’s degree in mathematics. He also kept former interim GM Tom Kurvers on staff after taking over; he has a more traditional hockey background but comes from outside Yzerman’s immediate circle.
” … You never know where you’re getting your best idea,” Babcock said. “It could be from your rookie player, it could be from your power skating instructor, it could be from the guy who cooks breakfast. You have to be open-minded.”
To review: some of the brightest minds in the sport want to keep absorbing more and more ideas. Or, at minimum, they know that it’s wise to venture such an open-minded argument.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen several instances where “the old way” leaves teams in the hockey equivalent of debt: bad contracts, shaky prospect pools, and dire futures.
If you don’t want to listen to “the nerds,” just consider what Yzerman, Babcock, and other bright hockey people might say. NHL teams would be wise to throw out a wider net to find the next great thinkers.
There have been plenty of rumblings about the Canadiens being willing to trade captain Max Pacioretty. That’s all fine and dandy, but GM Marc Bergevin has to make sure he gets the proper return if he decides to trade his scoring winger.
There should be no shortage of suitors for the 29-year-old sniper, who has one more year on his contract after this season. The fact that he has an incredibly reasonable cap hit of $4.5 million will only enhance his value. Pacioretty has scored 39, 37, 30 and 35 goals over the last four seasons, and he’s done so without a true number one center.
Let’s take a look at what a potential return should look like:
Acquiring Danault from Chicago a couple of years ago was a brilliant move by Bergevin, but he’s more of a very good third-line center than a top-six guy. Drouin, who was acquired this summer, has had a hard time adjusting to center in his first season with the Canadiens. There’s no doubt that he has an elite skill-level, but even Bergevin admitted that Drouin probably isn’t a center.
Getting an established top two center for Pacioretty isn’t going to be easy (it’s probably impossible), so the team has to land a young center with enormous potential. For example, prospects like Martin Necas (Carolina), Robert Thomas (St. Louis), Gabe Vilardi (Los Angeles) are the types of players that they should be targeting. They can’t help the Habs right away, but they’re talented enough to become difference makers in the near future.
The Canadiens have been looking for that top-line center for ages, and they have to score one on a trade involving Pacioretty. He’s the biggest bargaining chip they have right now.
A Partner for Weber
Right-handed defensemen are probably harder to find than lefties, but the Canadiens have Shea Weber and Jeff Petry as their top two righties right now, so they’re fine in that regard. But they still haven’t found a left-handed blue liner that can play on a top pairing with Weber.
Of course, getting an impact prospect and a top pairing defenseman that can play big minutes probably won’t happen. Pacioretty’s a good player, but expecting two pieces of that caliber isn’t realistic, either. So, if nobody’s willing to give up a center, they need to fill their second-biggest hole, which is on defense.
Bergevin expected veterans like Jordie Benn or David Schlemko to line up next to Weber in 2017-18, and that simply didn’t work out (shocker). That’s why getting an established puck-mover should also be a priority as well.
Timing is Everything
Although the Canadiens shouldn’t be in a rush to trade their captain, timing will be everything when it comes to this move. Shipping him out of town before this year’s trade deadline could make the difference between a good return and a great return.
If a team acquiring Pacioretty had him for the 2018 playoffs and 2019 season plus playoffs, they could be willing to pay a much bigger price for him. So although they don’t have to make this trade before Feb. 26, it’s probably in their best interest to do so.
Last season, the Habs watched Subban make the 2017 Stanley Cup Final during his first season with the Nashville Predators. Barring some absolutely staggering changes of fortune, it looks like Nashville will make another playoff run while the Canadiens will watch the NHL playoffs on TV with the rest of us.
Heck, the Predators couldn’t even throw the Canadiens a bone on Saturday, as a rowdy Montreal crowd saw Nashville win 3-2 in a shootout.
After the game, Brendan Gallagher clearly wasn’t happy about all the attention Subban was drawing … which essentially generated more attention for Subban.
You can see Gallagher’s full comments in the video above this post; he said “I don’t know why you’re asking about him” and mentioned Nashville’s other “elite” players, getting a jab in on Subban being a -1 in the game. He went further and said the sort of things that probably explain why the Canadiens (foolishly) traded the star defenseman.
Gallagher on Subban “He came in here and tried to make it about PK Subban. That’s what he does”
This is the sort of feud that makes hockey more fun, but it feels like Subban almost has the Patrick Roy-ish fuel of team success to throw in Gallagher’s face, even if P.K.’s ears can’t be plugged by two championship rings.
"The next time I come back [to Montreal], you know what I'll bring." – #Preds dman PK Subban
When discussing the chatter between the two sides, Subban said “I’m sure it’s pretty quiet over there now” with the Predators getting the two points.
“I didn’t see the smile on his face to be honest. All I saw was the blood dripping down after he tried to hit me and fell.” P.K. Subban on Brendan Gallagher. Paraphrased. Will get exact quote out after.
No one from the Canadiens has ever come out and put that notion in such plain terms as Gallagher did Saturday, and that’s largely because the Canadiens have avoided talking about Subban at all costs ever since the June 29, 2016, trade. That silence, that unwillingness to discuss it, spoke volumes. But words are always more impactful.
You didn’t need to witness the post-game comments to see things heat up at times. You could see it when Gallagher was mouthing off after opening the scoring, and collecting his 20th goal of the season:
It’s worth noting that it’s clear that Subban had plenty of pals in the Montreal locker room, too, as you can see from him visiting with the likes of Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk. (Aside: it’s still sort of funny that Galchenyuk is called “Chucky.”)
Here’s the thing about all of this: while it’s spicy fun for onlookers – this feels a lot like a high school squabble where the true winners are the audience members – it sure feels like sour grapes from Gallagher, who deserves credit for generating a strong season during a generally miserable one for Montreal.
While Subban is distinguishing himself on the ice (his team looks promising and he’s generating Norris buzz) and off of it (Subban’s sparkling personality made him an All-Star delight, not to mention his fantastic work for charities), the Canadiens are languishing with serious questions about their future direction. Maybe Subban’s personality rubbed some players the wrong way, yet can you really float superior chemistry when your team is plummeting down to mediocrity?
It seems like a feud Gallagher (and maybe the Canadiens as a whole) are bound to lose, but hey, we’ll take a little drama in a sport that often removes the sizzle from the steak.
There’s a certain level of scrutiny that comes with playing in a Canadian market.
The fans are perceived to be perhaps fiercer in their loyalty to their team, almost militant at times and when things aren’t going the correct way, tempers flare a little brighter and anger seeps in a little deeper.
There’s also a perception that the media in Canadian markets is tougher, that somehow scribes, radio personalities, and T.V. broadcasters can exert a level of influence that can turn the ship, even if ever so slightly.
Whether any of this is true or not is up for debate.
For P.K. Subban, however, there’s no argument to be made.
These aren’t merely perceptions for No. 76, but rather hard and harsh truths of playing in a hockey-mad market.
“The one thing that’s tough about Montreal, and I tell this to people all the time, is that regardless of what anybody says, the media and the community have an influence on the team,” Subban said in an interview with Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos that aired on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “That can make it tough at times because there is so much attention on the team, there’s so much attention on its superstars and players.”
Subban garnered much attention during his time in Montreal.
From fights with teammates to silly notions that his personality was too much and wasn’t the right fit for the Canadiens, to the enormous charitable contributions that endeared himself to the city.
Subban was loved and is still loved by the Montreal faithful, evidenced once again on Saturday with a chorus of cheers when he touched the puck in his second trip back to Bell Centre since being traded to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber in June of 2016.
During his interview with Kypreos, Subban said that for the Canadiens to be successful, the organization essentially needs to shelter its players from the vortex around them.
“I think it takes a very, very strong organization to manage that,” Subban said. “It has to be managed properly because when that starts to creep in, it’s tough. That’s not on the players to manage. I think that needs to be managed by the organization. That has to be the strongest part of that organization for the team to be successful.”
The debate of who “won” the Subban-Weber trade will rage on for as long as it bloody well wants to. It was a big deal no matter how you slice it and the impact its had on both teams isn’t hidden.
Subban is still the great defenseman he was in Montreal. The Canadiens haven’t been the same without him and the Nashville Predators, arguably, have never been better.
Like the one who got away, Subban’s second return to Montreal on Saturday is just another sad reminder of what was once theirs.