Shea Weber was outscored by Jeff Petry for the team lead in points by a defenceman last season. Will that happen again or will the veteran rebound and take back the top-scoring blueliner crown?
For the most part, Weber was ‘healthy’ last season which, after missing significant time the previous two years, was notable. Of course, he played through a long stretch late in the season where he wasn’t 100% and Petry was called on to take on a bit more of the workload. Not surprisingly, his production tanked after that; he had just five points in 25 games during the regular season games in 2020 after having 31 in the first 40 contests.
Nevertheless, Weber’s role, for the most part, remained unchanged except when Petry would take the odd shift ahead of him depending on the situation. He was on the top pairing (with a rotation of partners until Ben Chiarot stepped into that role), anchored the top penalty kill unit, and was a fixture on the top power play, almost to its detriment when Plan A was to get it to Weber and Plan B was revert to Plan A for long stretches. His ATOI actually crept up slightly compared to the year before but that was more the by-product of an inconsistent third pairing than anything else.
Weber had a decent regular season all things considered but like quite a few Habs, he found another gear in the playoffs. It’s not as if he was throwing big hits with more frequency or shooting more often but his play in front of the net was a lot more effective. (A looser whistle that ignored some of the extra stickwork certainly was a factor…) While it was a unique environment with the postseason being after a long delay, he showed that he can still be an anchor on the back end.
Season Stats: 65 GP, 15 goals, 21 assists, 36 points, +8 rating, 31 PIMS, 3 PPG, 2 GWG, 185 shots, 24:00 ATOI, 54.9 CF%
Playoff Stats: 10 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, +3 rating, 16 PIMS, 1 PPG, 0 GWG, 27 shots, 25:17 ATOI, 52.4 CF%
5 Year Averages
(2019-20’s stats were extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
While Petry did better than his previous forays into the number one role, I don’t expect Claude Julien to flip the two this coming season. That day will come (especially with Petry signed for four more years after this one) but not yet. Instead, he’ll be back on the top pairing with a partner that doesn’t really work all that well stylistically. Chiarot is the favourite to reprise his role as Brett Kulak hasn’t worked with Weber in the past, Joel Edmundson isn’t capable of handling a top-pairing workload, Alexander Romanov isn’t getting thrown to the fire, and Victor Mete may not even crack the lineup.
I also don’t expect his power play usage to change. He will be the PP1 option most of the time unless his pairing was out when the penalty was drawn. (In that case, he’d be PP2 behind Petry.) The presence of better options up front should lessen the frequency of the Habs all but telegraphing the pass to him and that actually should work to his benefit, even if it results in fewer shots altogether.
I’ve been saying this for a while now and perhaps this is the year I’ll actually be right but I expect Julien to try to limit Weber’s penalty kill time a little bit. Petry is capable of being the first option and I could see Edmundson paired with him and then Chiarot-Weber get the second wave. They’re never going to take him off that unit altogether but if they can shave even 45 seconds to a minute off per game, that would certainly be helpful over a compressed schedule. But even with that, he’s probably once again leading all Montreal blueliners in playing time.
As far as point production goes, Weber has been remarkably consistent. If you look at his point per game average the past five years, it’s only 0.03 off of the prior five years, considered by many to be the prime of his career. Yes, he’s 35 now but there isn’t any reason to think his production will fall off significantly so it’s pretty safe to pencil him in for a half a point per game or so. That’s a mark he has hit every season since 2007-08.
I could see his power play production actually ticking up a little bit next season with the better options up front; teams won’t be able to load up on stopping Weber from shooting as often. It was already pretty low to begin with though (0.22 PP points per game last year, 0.18 the year before) so for leagues that put extra emphasis on power play production, don’t go shooting him up the rankings just yet.
For leagues that have an expanded set of scoring settings, Weber is a safe bet to play at a triple-100 pace in shots, hits, and blocks. The big question will be how often he plays though as there’s no denying that he has been banged up. Statistically speaking, he’s probably a number two defenceman in most fantasy leagues with a bit of risk/reward to consider. If he stays healthy, he’ll almost certainly outperform a 2D draft slot (which should come a bit before the midway point in most leagues) but the recent history is certainly something to consider. But while his ability to be fully healthy for a full season is in question, what isn’t in question is that he’ll be an impactful player for the Habs and fantasy managers when he is in the lineup.
Since we don’t know the season length at this time, we’re going to use two sets of numbers. The first will be based on a 56-game campaign which is the NHL’s revised target for a mid-January start while the numbers in brackets will be those numbers pro-rated to a 48-game length which is speculated to be the minimum number of games they intend to play.
GP: 48 (41)
Goals: 11 (9)
Assists: 16 (13)
Points: 27 (22)
+/-: +7 (+6)
PIMS: 25 (21)
PPG: 4 (3)
GWG: 2 (2)
Shots: 139 (119)