When the Nashville Predators took to the ice at Ford Ice Center in preparation to host the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday evening, there were a few more people in the building than usual.
For one, fans of the Preds came out in force to get a glimpse of their favorite players on Monday during one of the team's annual practices at the suburban Nashville facility. But perhaps just as noticeable was the addition of a handful of television cameras and reporters on hand to document the next chapter of one of hockey's biggest trades of all time.
Former Predators captain Shea Weber will make his return to Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday, his first game against his former club since being dealt to Montreal on June 29 in exchange for P.K. Subban. Unfortunately, one side of the story will be absent from the contest, as Subban is on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury.
But the return of Weber still provides plenty of a storyline, and it's one that was discussed at length upon the conclusion of Monday's practice.
"Shea meant everything to this franchise; just looking back at some of the articles and reading over the last couple days, certainly I believe he's been the most important player in our franchise and always will be that way," Predators General Manager David Poile said. "Shea developed in such a way, not only as a player, but as a person and he did everything for us. We've had some bumps in the road with this franchise, some ownership changes, and some people that didn't believe the franchise was going to make it and you need good players. You need a solid foundation, and Shea gave us that, not only as a player, but equally as important as a person."
Video: GM Poile provides an update on Subban's injury
Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette, as well as Weber's former teammates also spoke on the prospect of going up against him tomorrow - some for the first time - and what it might be like to see him on the other side of the ice.
"He had a huge impact here," Laviolette said of Weber. "He was the face of the franchise for a long time; great person, great player, great leader, he did a lot for the Nashville Predators."
"[He] definitely [played] a big role [in my development]," defenseman Roman Josi said. "When I came in, he was obviously one of the best defensemen in the League already and a guy that I really looked up to. I got the chance to play with him my second year, and there's not many better things as a young defenseman than to play with a guy like Shea. He was definitely a mentor for me, and there's so many things I learned from him on and off the ice."
Video: Laviolette reflects on Weber returning to Nashville
Preds Captain Mike Fisher said he and some of his teammates will get together with Weber this evening to catch up and reminisce, but come Tuesday, it'll be back to business on all sides.
When a player returns to face his former team for the first time, it can seem like there are more than two points up for grabs, and the Predators would like to collect those two notches in the standings just as much as Weber undoubtedly would.
"Am I looking forward to seeing Shea and watching him play? Absolutely," Poile said. "I think it's going to be emotional for so many people, including myself, to have him back in our building… It's all good, I think from both sides, we've moved on, he's moved on and now we have to face him tomorrow night."