Stu Cowan: Weber adds another wrinkle to Canadiens’ off-season plans

Stu Cowan: Weber adds another wrinkle to Canadiens’ off-season plans

Habs GM Marc Bergevin has several important issues to deal with, including the expansion draft, NHL Draft and free agency.

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The Four Clydesdales.

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That’s how Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson described the team’s top four defencemen during the playoffs.

Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson definitely played like large, powerful horses during the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup final. At 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, Petry is the smallest of the group and they all averaged more than 23 minutes of ice time during the playoffs.

On Wednesday afternoon, Richardson spoke about how he was hoping general manager Marc Bergevin would protect the Four Clydesdales for next Wednesday’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft. Bergevin has the option of protecting seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards or defencemen) and one goalie.

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“Coaches are always going to be greedy and try and ask for as much as they want from the management and the organization,” Richardson said after agreeing to a three-year contract with the Canadiens. “I think the way our guys played in the playoffs — and I think Marc has mentioned it right away — we’re built for the playoffs. Well, I think a big part of that has probably been the size and physicality and skill level combined on our big four D that we’ve mentioned many times in the playoffs. So that’s going to be obviously a huge consideration for him moving forward in the next few weeks.

“But they always have to look at all the landscapes of other teams and maybe discussions even with Seattle,” Richardson added. “There’s different areas of our organization I’m sure that they’re concerned about. Obviously, you don’t want to lose a goaltender, you don’t want to lose one of our big four D. But how our forwards played in the playoffs and the consistency throughout our lineup up front, that’s going to be a concern, too. So no matter who we lose we won’t be happy, but every team’s in the same boat. As a coach we’re going to be greedy and I’m a defence coach, I want my four D back. But you can never count on that 100 per cent.”

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The expansion-draft landscape for the Canadiens changed Wednesday night with news that Weber might not be on the protected list because of injuries that could sideline him for all of next season and might also be career-threatening. Weber missed the last eight games of the regular season, but played in all 22 playoff games while averaging 25:13 of ice time. After losing the Stanley Cup final to the Tampa Bay Lightning, head coach Dominique Ducharme confirmed Weber had been playing with a thumb injury, but it appears he was playing through much more pain that just that.

Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reported Wednesday night that Weber was also dealing with lingering foot, ankle and knee issues and could be sidelined for an extended period of time, which is why the Canadiens are unlikely to protect the 35-year-old in the expansion draft.

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If that’s the case, the good news is that the Canadiens can protect the other three Clydesdales, along with seven forwards, without fear the Kraken would take the injured Weber. The bad news is the Canadiens could be without their leader and captain for an extended period of time and possibly for good. Weber has five seasons remaining on his 14-year, US$110-million contract with an average salary-cap hit of $7.857 million.

Depending on what happens with Weber’s medical situation moving forward, the Canadiens could put him on the long-term injured reserve list and gain some salary-cap relief, as the Lightning did this season with Nikita Kucherov after he had off-season hip surgery. The NHL would have to make the final decision on that. If Weber decided to retire because of his injuries, the Nashville Predators would have a “cap recapture” penalty of just over $4.9 million per season through 2025-26, which is when Weber’s contract expires.

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The Predators were forced to match the 14-year, US$110-million offer sheet Weber received from the Philadelphia Flyers in summer 2012 in order to keep him. When the Predators traded Weber to the Canadiens on June 29, 2016, in exchange for P.K. Subban, they were trading the ridiculous contract as much as the player. That deal could still come back to haunt the Predators.

The Weber situation is one more headache for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin ahead of the expansion draft, the NHL Draft July 23-24 and free agency, which begins on July 28.

Before deciding which seven forwards he wants to protect in the expansion draft, Bergevin has to figure out if he can re-sign unrestricted free agents Phillip Danault and Joel Armia and also what the future holds for Jonathan Drouin, who left the team for personal reasons in April. Veteran forward Corey Perry, who Bergevin would probably like to bring back, is also an unrestricted free agent, while Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen are restricted free agents.

Depending on what happens before the end of the month, the Canadiens could be a much different team next season.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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