When the Montreal Canadiens defenseman takes the ice for the game against the Vancouver Canucks at Bell Centre on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TSN2, SNP, RDS, NHL.TV), he will be thinking more about what lies ahead than what has passed in his career.
“As a kid, you dream of playing in the NHL. … you think that it’s going to come true and you imagine it,” Weber said Tuesday. “Realistically, it’s a lot tougher than people realize and it’s tough to do, so just making it here is really special. Make it this long and having a career this many games is something that I never really imagined… it’s pretty surreal.
“I can’t say thanks enough to coaches, family, friends. There’s so many people on the way, it’s definitely not just a personal thing. There are strength coaches, therapists, hockey coaches, family members. Obviously, my mom and dad were my biggest influences growing up. It’s just a team effort for sure.”
Though Weber is more comfortable letting his play speak for itself, others are happy to put his career in perspective.
Chris Chelios, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who has played more games (1,651) than any NHL defenseman, looks at Weber and sees a bit of himself. He also sees some of Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens, who played 1,635 NHL games for the Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and the New Jersey Devils, and Zdeno Chara, who has played 1,563 NHL games with the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.
“Shea contributes, he’s a leader and everybody loves him, much like Zdeno Chara,” Chelios said. “He’s very well respected by his teammates and around the League.”
Weber played his first 763 NHL games for the Nashville Predators before being traded to the Canadiens for defenseman P.K. Subban on June 29, 2016. Weber’s 1,000th NHL game will be his 237th for the Canadiens, and his 133rd since being named captain Oct. 1, 2018.
“The timing of the trade was perfect for Shea,” Chelios said. “He’s a leader, he’s matured, he’s accepted his role in Montreal and I think he’s done a fantastic job.”
The 35-year-old is playing a Canadiens-high average of 23:41 per game. He has scored six points (two goals, four assists) in nine games this season, with 576 points (220 goals, 356 assists) in 999 NHL games.
The Canadiens traditionally recognize a player’s 1,000th game during his milestone night and are expected to present Weber with a silver stick before their next home game, against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
“We’re so lucky to have Shea,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said. “You can’t put a dollar value on what he brings to us, the intangibles. The leadership that this team needed since he’s been here, but really needs right now, is coming to light. We’re seeing it. He’s the person on the team who all the players look up to and respect. That’s extremely valuable when you’re trying to have a winning organization.”
Molson said it was a priority in 2016 for the Canadiens and general manager Marc Bergevin to find an established, long-term leader.
“The first step in that process was to get Shea,” Molson said. “We gave up P.K. to do that. You’ve seen the past [five] years how things have unfolded. One of Marc’s biggest priorities was to get a leader who would be with the team for many years and guide it to success.”
The Predators selected Weber in the second round (No. 49) of the 2003 NHL Draft, and Nashville GM David Poile recalled how difficult it was to trade Weber, then the Predators captain, to the Canadiens for Subban, who had won the Norris Trophy in 2013.
The Predators traded Subban to the New Jersey Devils on June 22, 2019.
“Think of Shea in terms of how he developed and matured as a player and eventually became our captain,” Poile said Sunday. “If you’re asking me to name three or four players who were the face of our franchise, who have done the most to make the Predators successful, Shea would be right there at the top of the list.
“He has a presence. It’s obvious on the ice. He’s become one of the best defensemen in the League, his shot is the hardest in the NHL and he plays a very physical brand of hockey. What’s not to like? It’s pretty hard to criticize Shea Weber as a player.
“Off the ice he carries himself very professionally. He’s a very proud man. His legacy will always be very, very important for what he did for hockey in Nashville, establishing the game, and also for his presence in the community. He’s a very generous person and a very popular player.”
Weber (6-foot-4, 229 pounds) is the same height and four pounds heavier than the listed height and weight for Larry Robinson, the Hall of Fame defenseman who played for Montreal from 1972-89. Robinson’s 1,202 games are the most by a Canadiens defenseman.
“Shea’s become a complete player,” Robinson said. “The first thing I like about him is his shot, which is a cannon.”
Weber has won the Hardest Shot contest each of the past four times it’s been held as part of NHL All-Star Weekend.
“And he’s become a very, very good defender,” Robinson said. “Shea has transitioned from the old game to the new game very, very well. A defenseman today has to be more mobile than in my day. You’ve got smaller, stronger skaters now who are coming at you at 900 mph. You can’t hook and hold or interfere with them at all. It’s so much more important now to have body position and to always be thinking ahead of where the play is going.
“As captain he doesn’t have to say much, like Henri Richard didn’t in my time. Shea’s there, he sticks up for his teammates, he comes to play and to work every night. The players look up to him, and when something has to happen, he’s usually front and center.”
Chelios, co-captain of the Canadiens with Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90, says that Weber has much left to accomplish in his career. But he did point out one record that may be out of his reach.
On Tuesday, Weber will be 651 games shy of tying Chelios’ mark.
“I love the kid, and my congratulations to him for 1,000 games, but good luck with that,” Chelios said.