Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weber Worthy of Big Time Contract

Shea Weber's two-day trek to Toronto for his arbitration hearing last summer had ended. While his plane circled the runway at Kelowna, B.C., August 3, he sat and waited -- and he checked his e-mail.

There was a message from Matt Keator, his agent.

"The judge awarded you $7.5 million," it read. "You are now the fifth-highest paid defenseman in the National Hockey League."

To know the 26-year-old defenseman from the Nashville Predators, this type of tedium is not him is uncommon for this native of Sicamous, B.C. For him, crushing opposing forwards, shutting down the National Hockey League top scorers and then unleashing his 100 mph shots was more like Weber.

I asked him if could paint of picture of his reaction or wanted to do a fist-pump or high-five in celebration.

"No, it's just a part of the game," Weber responded, looking a little anxious. "I looked around. I didn't want cause of scene."

Quiet, in his best times, Shea was excited, because his asking price was $8 million, while the Predator countered with $4.75 million. 

"I went home and saw a lot of my family," said the 6-4, 211-pound defenseman. "I spent time with my brother and my dad and spent a lot of time on the lake. Spent some time in the sun and some time in the water and trained hard in preparation for the season."

Figuring out his financial success was the least on Shea's mind. He'd rather just chill out. After all, Weber lives so close to Vancouver that, you could say, he got his fill of hearing how the Canucks beat the Predators in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.

"The way we went out last year, I don't think we realized how close we were" he explained. "Up until that point it had gone as good as you could have planned for. We could have beaten them.

"It was -- I wouldn’t say a speed bump -- just a lesson you go through. And that was a hard time."

Knowing that he is a prime part of the Predators and that goaltender Pekka Rinne had gotten a new $7 million contract for David Poile makes it only a matter of time for the GM to come up with the right kind of contract for him and fellow defensemen Ryan Suter. Something in the $7 million range.

Said Poile, "Why not. We think Rinne, Weber and Suter stand to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville. I have talked to our management -- and they said make sure these guys are happy."

Predator coach Barry Trotz couldn't agree with that anymore. He just laughed at Weber's part of it. 

"You have to know Shea," he said. "There are no hidden agendas with him. He is well grounded. Just a kid from Sicamous. No frills. No outward display."

Preparing for his second game of 2011-12 season in St. Louis, Trotz said a couple of days past before his called his all-star defenseman. Is he worth the money he will make this season.

"Absolutely", said Trotz, encouraging Weber every step of the way. "I told him, 'I don't want you to change.' Your pay scale changed, but you don't have to any different than you have done for us. You don't have to be twice the player you were last season. Be yourself. That's all.

"He has worked his butt off to be a candidate for the Norris Trophy (finshed second to Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom last season). Shea's one of four or five top defensemen in the game. Lidstrom and Chris Pronger and Shea.

"You are going to go out and trade for another defenseman like him."

This is more than just a Sicomous to an NHL prospect story.

"I played forward and defense until my second year of bantam," he said of his 15th birthday, when he was a slight 5-9. "I was cut from my first junior team in Prince Albert. But ...

"Somehow, I was put on the Kelowna list -- and the rest in history."

So you can see why this young defenseman wasn't surprise why he last until the second-round draft pick (49th overall) in the 2003 entry draft. Then, he slowly, but surely made up for lost time in his unfulfilling career.

James Weber, who works in the Sicamous saw mill, and his wife, Tracy, a hairdresser, made sure that Shea grew up with all the right values.

"The best advice I ever got was from my parents. I don't know how many times they both told me, 'It doesn't matter where you come from ... if you work hard everything will be OK,' " Shea recalled.

"Coming from a small town, I guess there were questions," Weber said. "But ..."

For a moment anyway, Shea allowed himself to think back ... and then ahead. He thought back to his dad purchasing an old net from the local arena in Sicamous, and turning his boys loose. They'd practice for hours and hours.

"My dad brought home the plywood that would serve as our launching pad to practice our shooting," Weber said with a big smile on his face. "That kept me and my brother and my friends busy. We would have all kinds of competitions. Me and my brother would tie cans up for targets. In the winters, we'd flood the yard to make a little rink and work on it that way. I remember my mom would have a heckuva time getting us to come in to eat. Usually, the food was cold when we finally went in the house, but we didn't care. We were ready to go back outside after we got a bite to eat."

And his heavy shot?

"I remember watching Al MacInnis shoot the puck," Weber recalled. "I remember watching his technique. His weight shift. His hands. Everything."

Last season, which was his sixth in the NHL, he scored 16 goals and 32 assists.

You ask Trotz and he'll tell you that Weber can into his own in February 2010, when he made the Canadian Olympic Team, or to Weber, who became captain, at the start of last season.

"You could see how much he wanted to be on the Olympic Team," Trotz said. "He was fighting off a injury. But he couldn't be denied.

"When he got to Vancouver, Sidney Crosby was his roommate and you could see how much preparation Sidney put into each game."  

Weber's two goals and four assists in seven games was key to Team Canada's gold medal victory.

And the captaincy?

"Obviously I put a lot of pressure on myself," said Weber. "I've seen how every captain has handled the job. I took the job, because I thought I could do it.

"I've be honored to be wearing the 'C'. I've been a part of the culture that we have tried to create."

Shea Weber has gone from a youngster with a big shot to quality defenseman to a shutdown player to all-tournament player for the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic team to near Norris Trophy contender.

He's come a long way from being a second-round draft choice from Sicamus. 

Weber will be rewarded for his fine play in Nashville soon and you now he'll try his best to win a Stanley Cup for the Predators.

He's still got some of that small town mentality -- whether it be Sicamus or Nahville -- in him.

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