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Shea Weber's impact still felt by Predators

Canadiens defenseman returns to Nashville for first time since trade to Montreal

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

There is something about Shea Weber, but no one seems to know what exactly it is.

Just about anyone who has played with him, whether it was with the Nashville Predators during his first 11 NHL seasons, with the Montreal Canadiens this season or with Canada in international competition, points to Weber's leadership ability as one of his primary attributes.

Yet those same people often say he doesn't talk much.

Many point to Weber's ability to intimidate opponents with his physical play and defensive awareness, while others look to his powerful slap shot in the offensive end.

Whatever it is about Weber that makes him so successful, it has become very evident in his first season with the Canadiens that they appreciate having it. And it would appear, at least at this point in the season, that the Predators miss it. 

Video: MTL@TBL: Weber buries one-timer for pretty PPG

"He's got a huge impact," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "He's a true leader. He makes people around him better. He's really focused and he gets the guys focused."

Weber will play his first game as an opponent at Bridgestone Arena when the Canadiens face the Predators on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; SNE, RDS, FS-TN, NHL.TV) for the first time since the June 29 trade that sent defenseman P.K. Subban to the Predators in a straight-up trade for Weber.

Subban will miss the game because of an upper-body injury that will keep him out of the Predators lineup for at least the next 2-3 weeks. But the return of Weber to Nashville is what this game always was about.

Stu Grimson has as firm a grasp on the Nashville hockey market as anyone, having lived there since playing the final season of his NHL career with the Predators in 2001-02. He has been a color commentator on Predators broadcasts for nine years and is president of the Predators Alumni Association.

When Weber arrived in Nashville in 2005-06, it was a much different hockey market than it is today. And Weber is a big reason why the area has embraced the sport as much as it has.

"We do hockey a little bit differently than most of the other areas of North America, and for that reason Shea leaves an important legacy to Nashville," Grimson said. "Folks get that. He really helped to put hockey on the map in our market. It will be the warmest reception any former player's had, I suspect. He left as significant a mark as any ex-Predator has."

That mark was left on the Predators locker room as much as it was in the market.

Weber was the Predators captain for his final six seasons in Nashville and coach Peter Laviolette said it took some time for his team to adjust to the leadership void he left behind, even though he was replaced as captain by a strong leader in Mike Fisher.

The problem, Laviolette said, is that by elevating Fisher to captain, the leadership group in the dressing room had to be expanded to include the young core of stars like defensemen Roman Josi (26) and Ryan Ellis (25) and No. 1 center Ryan Johansen (24), all of whom are 26 or younger.

Video: CHI@NSH: Fisher chips in a power-play goal

"I think a lot of that was getting learned in October from our group about the responsibility that every guy has," Laviolette said. "I think that's why it started to turn around in November for us, that guys really accepted that responsibility and tried to make a difference, and we're still working towards that.

"There's a reason why the veteran players are the ones who usually come to the forefront as your leaders on your team. But that's a learning process for the younger guys, guys that were in the room learning from Shea, learning from Mike Fisher as an [alternate] captain."

The Predators have had an up and down season, going 2-5-1 in October, 9-3-2 in November and 5-6-3 in December. How much of that has to do with Weber's departure is debatable, but the difficult start at least appears to be in part attributable to that.

"We're not where we want to be in the standings, there's no question," Fisher said. "But I feel like we're grinding like a lot of teams are out there, trying to find wins. It's making us really come together."

Meanwhile in Montreal, Weber has been fitting in seamlessly with his new team.

"For me it was pretty much all brand new faces in here," Weber said. "It was how welcoming they were to me and how easy it was for me to fit in here. I felt like I was a part of something here,and that said a lot. You know that it's a tight group if it's that easy to fit in."

The early optics on the trade were not good, with the Predators struggling out of the gate and the Canadiens starting 9-0-1. Weber had four goals and six assists in those 10 games. 

The Canadiens and Weber himself have cooled considerably since, but there are no complaints in Montreal about the new addition to the dressing room.

Changing the culture in that room was a big reason why Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin pulled the trigger on a trade that jettisoned the wildly popular Subban, and so far at least it appears to have worked.

Whatever it is that makes Weber so great, the Canadiens like it.

"When he walks into a room he has that respect from everyone in here based on what he's done, but he doesn't take that for granted," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "He's a great teammate. He takes the time to listen to everyone's opinion and feel them out. He's not in a position where he feels he can't learn anything, he still feels he can learn from other guys. I think that's important.

"When we brought him in we brought obviously what he does on the ice, his skill set. But also as a leader, game after game, the mentality that he has. He's able to bounce back night after night. Win or lose you can't really tell on his face. Going into the game he's just as intimidating and ready to compete."

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