Defensemen are a dime a dozen in the NHL. Most teams go through a handful of them without ever truly finding one that can be designated as having reached the status of "elite".
Many will be able to garner the services of a top-end defenseman or two through the glorious window of free agency, usually paying out the nose to do so.
Fewer will have the opportunity to draft and develop elite-level defensemen. A level of talent that sometimes can be viewed as generational once the named prospect reaches the peak of their abilities.
Luckily for Nashville, they've been such a team.
The Predators have seen so many highly-skilled defensemen come through their ranks, that they've been able to lose plenty of them to free agency and still remain one of the best defensive teams of the last decade-plus.
Talent like Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Klein, Ryan Suter and Cody Franson were all drafted by Nashville -- all now in different locations across the league. Even Franson, who continues to be one of the few free agent defensemen left available this offseason, is still very much productive.
Even with names like Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Seth Jones flaunted to the masses, the most recognizable names on defense for Nashville are obviously Roman Josi and Shea Weber.
Weber is a perennial Norris Trophy finalist -- without ever winning the award -- and Josi garnered his first top ten finish in voting this season placing fifth to Weber's fourth.
Josi is a smooth-skating, extremely intelligent defenseman whose abilities to lock down zone entries and clear out the opposition -- not to mention the 55 points he accumulated this season, tied for fifth most among defensemen -- have placed him in the upper echelon of defensive talent, and he's only 25 years old.
On the opposite side, Weber is a mammoth on the blue line. His 6'4" frame stands tall with an imposing checking ability and a massively intimidating slap-shot that often injures those unfortunate enough to find themselves in his crosshairs.
Both are fantastic defenseman who anchor Nashville's defense as one of the best tandems across the league. While the ability to compare both Josi and Weber in the same light may not be easily done, the fact remains that both are (or should be) considered elite.
Yet, could Weber already be on a downhill slope?
He plays a style of hockey that can only be described as "old-time hockey". Something from a bygone era that will never be duplicated again. Plus he's easily one of the fewest players who
However, with Weber on the cusp of his 30th birthday in a few weeks, it could be time to consider that he may have already passed the prime of his career without many of us really noticing it.
Point Production for Prime Years
There have already been a couple attempts to pinpoint the key age at which a player hits their prime and proceeds to either level out or begin their slow descent towards retirement.
As most point to 27 being the point where a certain ceiling is reached, there's never a sure-fire way to absolutely prove that to be correct -- especially with defensemen.
Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis hit his production prime at that exact age -- 27. There's no question he was still thoroughly productive over his last 12 seasons in the league before retiring, but the closest MacInnis came to a reproduction of his 103 point season during the 1990-91 campaign was an 82 point outing three years later.
What about Hall of Famer Scott Stevens?
Stevens racked up 78 points in 83 games during the 1993-94 season, the year of his 30th birthday. In his subsequent 10 seasons afterwards, Stevens never reached the 40 point plateau -- the closest coming in 2001 when he contributed 31 points in 81 games.
Another example is Predators assistant coach Phil Housley.
The soon-to-be Hall of Famer scored 97 points in 80 games while playing for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93, 29 years old at the time. The most Housley contributed after that was 55 points in 1999-00 with the Calgary Flames.
Of course, there are always aberrations to the eventual scatter plot that one could make of point production for prime years of defensemen.
Nicklas Lidstrom notched 80 points at 35 years of age.
Chris Chelios scored 72 points at 36 years of age, only one point off his career-best.
Mathieu Schneider also achieved a career-best in his mid-30's -- registering 59 points at the age of 36.
While the one thing all three of those gentlemen hold in common is they passed through the ranks of the Detroit Red Wings at some point in their career -- or all of their career, in Lidstrom's case -- they all showcase that providing elite offensive production can still be possible for defensemen who are well north of 30 years old.
In Weber's case, he was at his best two seasons ago when Nashville missed the playoffs and he recorded 56 points in 79 games.
This past season? 45 points in 78 games. The biggest indicator that something was off, at least in my opinion, was his shooting percentage.
Aberrant Shooting Percentage
Based on the eye test alone, Weber's accuracy wasn't exactly the greatest last season. In fact, it was awful. It was sixth-worst among Predators players who had recorded at least one goal last season:
Jokinen, Roy, Franson and Santorelli all played portions of their seasons outside of Nashville, so you could easily come to the conclusion that Weber's shooting percentage was, in reality, second-worst on the team last season.
This coming just one season after Weber's accuracy hit 11.8% (23 goals on 195 shots), which was only six-tenths of a percentage point greater than his career-best shooting percentage posted in 2006-07 (11.2%. 17 goals on 152 shots).
Granted, shooting percentage isn't everything. However, adding in an extra 99 missed shots to his already lofty total technically decreases his shooting percentage to right about 4.5%.
The next closest player in terms of missed shots on Nashville's roster? Roman Josi with 55.
With Weber hovering around a 7.8% career shooting percentage over 10 years with Nashville, something isn't quite adding up based on his current numbers.
Further to the point of basic statistics, Weber led Nashville defensemen with 53 registered giveaways in his 78 games. A number that has remained in and around the 50-plus mark for the past handful of seasons.
Weber vs Corsi
Advanced metrics also concur that Weber has slowly been on the a bit of a downhill trend for at least six years (all via war-on-ice.com).
While deployment says a lot as to how well players tend to perform, especially in the case of some of the top-tier defensive players around the league, Weber hasn't truly demonstrated positive possession numbers since the 2010-11 season.
Averaging at or over 70% zone starts in the neutral and defensive zones, Weber does not even come close to the near-57% Corsi he saw five season ago.
Some would put that on the loss of Ryan Suter. However, his metrics across all situations in Suter's final two years with the organization really doesn't hold water, in my opinion. Especially with Josi being a more than adequate replacement for the loss of Suter.
Combine that with how successful every other defenseman -- outside of Weber's current partner Josi -- has been in terms of current possession metrics and it becomes a tad concerning.
What could even be more worrisome is how his statistics read based on score adjusted five-on-five situations -- probably one of the more important possession-based metrics available now.
Last season, Weber and Josi -- who play the most minutes against the toughest opponents for the Predators -- weighed in at 50.96% and 50.61% respectively in CorsiFor during five-on-five score adjusted situations. Ellis and Ekholm maintained percentages over 56%, Franson at 56.26%, Jones at 54.05% and Volchenkov at 52.4%.
Peeling Back the Layers
All of this can be thrown aside and boiled down to one simple hypothesis: Weber has slowly and steadily been on a slight decline in terms of his basic and advanced measurable statistics for at least the past six seasons.
Ultimately, Weber is a devastating and terrifying defenseman based on his on-ice play, shooting abilities and presence alone. The franchise has already paid off all but $16 million of his $68 million signing bonus that was part of the 14 year, $110 million offer sheet he signed with the Flyers that was subsequently matched by Nashville.
Many would argue that the Predators would do well to trade Weber away for a true King's Ransom that they could receive in return, which they most definitely would. However, with $52 million already paid out, why do it?
Weber may be on the decline, no longer in the prime of what could easily be a stellar career, but that doesn't take away the fact that he's still one of the better defenseman in the league right now.
Good enough to continually be a Norris Trophy finalist.
Good enough to be the captain of the Nashville Predators and one of the faces of the franchise.
Good enough to scare the pants off anyone willing to take one too many liberties with his teammates. (see below)
And for Nashville, with the talent they have surrounding him, all Weber needs for the remainder of his career is to continue to be just that -- good.