"Watch it, Hank." - Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
Alternate headlines: "Oh Captain, My Captain," "High Fidelity First Class Traveling Set," or "There Is No Chin Behind Shea Weber's Beard; Only Another Slap Shot."
The perfect blend of defensive ability -- thanks to his size, strength, and grit -- and offense ability -- thanks to his Howitzer of a slapper -- Weber posted 49 points in 2011-2012 (19 G, 30 A), good for the second best offensive season of his career. (18 of those 49 points came against Central Division opponents.) Clearly an elite defenseman, many thought Weber got the titanium shaft when the Professional Hockey Writers Association decided all of a sudden that a whole bunch of offense mattered more than defensive ability in last year's Norris Trophy voting, and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators somehow managed to beat Weber by just 12 points. Called upon by Barry Trotz to play in all situations, Shea played big minutes against the top lines in the league, and routinely frustrated the best of the NHL's best. (As if the world needed any more evidence that he's the best in the world at his position.)
But perhaps more interesting than anything Shea did during the regular season or playoffs last year, he helped give Nashville Predators ownership lots of positive press this summer (at least that's how I'm choosing to think about it) when he signed a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers in the offseason, thereby giving the folks at 501 Broadway an opportunity to match, locking up their captain for virtually the rest of his career. We weren't scared at all in Nashville. Nope.
All eyes are on Weber this year, since his long-time Nashville blueline partner Ryan Suter inked a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild, who also signed Suter's pal and former New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise to an identical deal. Weber appears confident that Roman Josi is the answer to an absent Suter, and Dirk concluded a year ago that Suter wasn't really any better than Weber (personally, I think there is no Ryan Suter without Shea Weber -- not that I'm still bitter or anything), but how the new first pairing fares in the first two weeks of the season will probably make or break the team's chances of making the playoffs.
Will the Sicamous Sasquatch be able to lead Nashville out of the fog of questions surrounding the blueline, and will that be good enough to finally win him a Norris Trophy?