NEW YORK -- Is it possible Shea Weber
has become one of the NHL's best defensemen because Shea Weber
is embracing the idea that he's one of the NHL's best defensemen?
That's the rationale of Barry Trotz
, who has coached Weber since he was a 21-year-old rookie in 2005-06 and watched him develop into a perennial Norris Trophy candidate and an All-Star for the third time this season.
"I think in terms of his game, it's raised in the sense that he's always been good offensively and he's always been physical and all that," Trotz told NHL.com. "Where he's raised his game is he's more comfortable as Shea Weber
as an elite player in the National Hockey League. A lot of players make the statement the player has arrived. Well, he has arrived. He's arrived not only as a player, he's done that the last few years, but he's arrived as an elite player in the League and an elite leader."
The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Weber broke into the NHL as a Nashville Predator with a reputation for big hits and for having an equally big shot. The Sicamous, B.C., native made his mark during the 2008-09 season when he drilled home 23 goals -- 10 on the power play -- and added 33 assists.
It was bittersweet, however, as his best statistical season was also the only time he's missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his first six seasons. He has since matured and become a more complete defenseman, still capable of being an offensive threat while improving his play in his own zone to the point where he was a first-time finalist for the Norris Trophy in 2011.
Weber said as he gained experience, he learned that having the ability to outsmart an opponent is just as important as being able to destroy him with a thundering hit.
He'll try to continue his Norris-worthy season when the Predators return from the All-Star break Tuesday with a game against the Wild in Minnesota.
"When you first come into the League and you like to play physical, you just want to hammer everyone," Weber told NHL.com. "You want to make the big hit all the time. That can cost you. Guys are so good and so smart now. They move the puck and jump by you. You got to make sure all areas are covered and it's the right choice and there's no chance of repercussion."
After registering 211 hits a season ago, the Predators' captain is on pace for about 50 fewer this season.
Weber also learned along the way that less can be more with his shot, too.
Last season, he fired 254 shots on goal, third-most in the League behind Boston's Zdeno Chara
(264) and Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien
(347), but Byfuglien also saw time at forward last season. Weber finished 2010-11 with 16 goals and 48 points in 82 games.
Weber has missed four games due to a concussion this season so he's on pace to finish with less shots than he had last season, but he's averaging more shots on goal per game than he ever has by taking a little off his fastball when it's necessary.
"It's nice to be able to rip one by a goaltender, but it's getting so tough with the way guys block shots and goalies being so good that it's tough, especially from the blue line, to beat a goalie outright," Weber said. "This year, especially, I've been trying to get shots through a lot more and look for guys off to the side of the net for more tips rather than just shoot it as hard as I can."
Weber is playing better positionally, being smarter with his shot, and it's all added up to what's setting up to be his best offensive season and, perhaps, his best defensive season too.
It's not a surprise to Trotz, who said few people take the game as seriously as Weber.
"To me, he's all business," Trotz said. "He's got a great sense of humor, but you talk about an athlete that's focused on his profession, focused on doing the right things. That's how he approaches everything. He's been a great leader. He listens to a guy like Ryan Suter
who's evolved into a great leader. Shea has gotten most of the publicity but Ryan Suter
is a tremendous leader and a tremendous asset for Shea. They're both going to win a Norris Trophy, I predict that."
Weber and Suter have been teammates since 2005-06 and have been defense partners pretty regularly since 2008-09. They've been the Predators' ice-time leaders since that season, and both will be All-Stars together for the first time this year in Ottawa.
At last year's All-Star Game, Weber was partnered with Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom
. This year, Lidstrom stayed home, so Weber was hoping to play with Suter, but they wound up on different teams.
Suter said Weber offered him some words of encouragement last year when Weber was an All-Star and Suter didn't make the cut.
"I really like Shea. We're really good friends," Suter said. "We are close, we hang out, we talk all the time about different things, and I think we play well together. I love seeing him succeed. Last year, when he made the All-Star Game, he came up to me and said, 'Sutes, this is for us, couldn't have done it without you.' He says things like that, so for me it's good when he succeeds."
Weber also said he and Suter were tight, but his description of the on-ice, off-ice friendship sounded more like a marriage than a friendship.
"We try to help each other out," Weber said. "We end up fighting sometimes and agreeing on some things. It's not perfect. It's just like anything. You like each other so we want each other to be better and you want to be better personally. We try to help each other out on the ice and in the locker room as well."
It's fair to say Weber makes Suter better and vice versa, so it's only fitting they shared the spotlight during All-Star weekend in Ottawa. Weber's answer to the question about what he was looking forward to most this year with Lidstrom not there shows just how close the two have become.
"Ryan being there," Weber said. "It's nice for Sutes to get some recognition."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo