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Shea Weber could keep Carey Price, Alexander Radulov with Canadiens

Defenseman's presence for long term may be reason for star goalie, top forward to stay

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- When defenseman Shea Weber arrived at his first Montreal Canadiens training camp last fall, he knew two people on the team.

It just so happens those are the two most important people of the Canadiens' offseason, and Weber may play a primary role in ensuring they return.

Weber knew goaltender Carey Price from their time playing for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He also knew forward Alexander Radulov because they played together for two seasons with the Nashville Predators.

Price will be eligible to sign a new contract July 1, one year before his current one expires. Radulov can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 after a very successful first season in Montreal.

The widely held belief when the Canadiens acquired Weber from the Predators for defenseman P.K. Subban on June 29 was that general manager Marc Bergevin was attempting to take full advantage of a relatively short window to win, one tied to the end of Price's contract, because he likely will be due a raise from his current salary-cap charge of $6.5 million per season.

Weber, 31, is four years older than Subban and therefore closer to the downside of his career, but the combination of him and Price made the Canadiens a formidable defensive team, one that might have been able to win before the end of Price's contract. However, that won't happen this season after they were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round.

In hindsight, the added benefit might be that Price and Radulov see Weber as a reason to stay in Montreal.

When Weber was asked Monday whether he feels an urgency to win considering how old he is, he initially brushed it off with a joke.

"I've got what, eight years left on my contract?" Weber asked with a big smile. "So I've got eight more years, no?"

Weber actually has nine years left on the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet he signed as a restricted free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, according to Capfriendly.com, a contract the Predators matched and honored for four years before trading Weber to Montreal.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm5: Price extends pad to rob Nash in OT

Price was the first Canadiens player Weber spoke to after the trade. They have known each other for years aside from their time together on the national team, spending their summers in Kelowna, British Columbia. Weber and Price will be traveling back to Kelowna together in the next couple of weeks, and Weber said he had little doubt at some point Price's future would come up.

"For sure we'll discuss it," he said. "We haven't yet but we talk a lot. I'm sure that will cross. But I'm probably not going to tell you guys what he said."

When asked if the length of his contract might provide some incentive for Price to stay in Montreal, Weber flipped it and said it makes him want Price to stay even more.

"[It's also reason] for me wanting him to be here," he said. "You want the best players and he's our best player. So I don't see any reason why I wouldn't want to play with him. Let's sign him for eight years too. Isn't that the hometown [limit] now? Eight years? So let's sign him for eight years."

Aside from their friendship, there are other reasons for Price to want to continue playing behind Weber, the first being that no player in the NHL who played at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 this season was on the ice for fewer goals-against per 60 minutes of ice time (1.27), according to Corsica.hockey. Related to that is how much easier Price's life becomes when Weber is playing in front of him.

"I don't have to worry so much about where I'm leaving a rebound when he's there. He's always in a good position," Price said in March. "A lot of people don't see those details. They can usually see goals and hits and major plays. They don't see the little stuff."

Price said Monday that he was interested in discussing a new contract with the Canadiens once he's allowed to. It's hard not to wonder if his buddy playing defense in front of him for the foreseeable future played a small role in that.

If the thought of losing Price might be a frightening one for Canadiens fans, Radulov leaving as a free agent this summer would be a far more immediate blow to a team starved for goals.

Video: MTL@NYR, Gm3: Radulov nets nifty one-handed goal

Radulov, 30, had 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 76 games after signing a one-year contract July 1, two days after Montreal acquired Weber from the Predators. Radulov had spent the previous eight seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League except for nine regular-season and eight playoff games with the Predators in 2011-12.

It was those playoffs that left a stain on Radulov's reputation. He was suspended by the Predators for violating curfew, and then returned home to Russia.

Bergevin needed to know if he could count on Radulov before signing him, and one of the people he turned to was Weber.

Now that Radulov has proven himself as a legitimate top-line NHL forward and has the opportunity to get a longer-term contract and a raise from his current $5.75 million salary, he hasn't forgotten one of the reasons he got his opportunity in Montreal.

"[Weber] is obviously, he's my friend, first of all, since a long time," Radulov said. "He was the guy who actually helped me to [get] here. … I'm thankful to him and I enjoyed [playing] with him. Hopefully we can work it out and I'll be here."

Nearly a year after a trade that has been picked apart and analyzed to no end, a new, important layer that no one realized existed has emerged. Weber always has been a highly respected player and teammate among his peers, a value that is difficult to quantify from the outside.

This summer, we might finally see the tangible benefit of that reputation.

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