Maybe his injury isn’t as severe as initially feared. Or maybe it’s the last act of a desperate team trying to do anything it can to salvage its season before it continues to spiral down the drain. Whatever the reason, there appears to be a very real chance that defenseman Shea Weber could return to the Montreal Canadiens’ lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
Coach Claude Julien announced on Monday that Weber — along with injured forward Paul Byron — could be in the lineup on Tuesday.
Keep in mind we are just five days removed from the Canadiens announcing that Weber would be sidelined 4-6 weeks due to a sprained ankle.
Weber added (via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels) on Monday that doctors have told him he can not do any more damage to his injured ankle, and that while he is obviously not 100 percent he still feels good to go.
He has been sidelined since Feb. 4, a stretch that has seen the Canadiens win just two of their past six games to continue to fall out of playoff contention.
They enter the week nine points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are eight points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Adding to their current deficit is they have also played more games than every team ahead of them in the standings. In other words: The playoffs are more than a long shot.
When you combine that with Weber’s age, as well as the way injuries have piled up for him over the years it’s a little bit of a surprise to see his timeline accelerated that way it has been. Weber is having an outstanding season and is still an excellent player when healthy, but injuries have already sidelined him for 90 games during his Canadiens’ tenure over the past four years. That’s more than 30 percent of the possible games.
Hockey’s culture loves to glorify the warrior mentality of a player playing through pain for the good of the team. And it is hard to tell a player that they shouldn’t — or can’t — play. But at some point you have to wonder when it is no longer worth the risk. Even if doctors are pretty sure he can’t do anymore damage to this particular injury by playing, you’re still talking about a 34-year-old player (who you still owe a TON of money to over the next several years), with a lengthy injury history, playing on a bad ankle for a team that probably has less than a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs at this point. Aside from legitimate questions as to how impactful he might be given the circumstances, who is to say that playing on a bad ankle couldn’t lead to a different injury? At some point you have to wonder when it’s no longer worth the risk and just let the guy rest and get healthy and realize there is still a bigger picture at play here than a futile attempt to salvage a lost season.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.