Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber was recently awarded a one-year contract worth $7.50 million in arbitration. While no general manager looks forward to paying that much for a defenseman, Weber happens to be worth every penny he is paid.
At this time, I still say that Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings) is the best defenseman in the NHL. Not only did Lidstrom lead all blue-liners with 62 points last season, he plays consistent virtually mistake-free hockey on a nightly basis. I will say, however, that Weber is perhaps the most complete defenseman in the NHL today. Although Weber’s 48 points does not match Lidstrom’s 62, he likely could have achieved 62 or more points if he played for the more talented Red Wings.
When comparing Weber to other skilled defensemen, I noticed that the defenseman with numbers most similar to Weber in most categories is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang. Both Weber and Letang played 82 games last season, with Letang recording 50 points (8-42-50) while Weber scored 48 (16-32-48). Weber blocked 113 shots while Letang blocked 109.
The major differences between Weber and Letang are that Weber is better at taking the puck away from others than Letang is and Weber is also more physical than Letang. Weber’s 211 hits trumps Letang’s 167; more importantly, Weber had 62 takeaways (most among NHL defensemen) to his 51 giveaways; Letang had only 39 takeaways to his 52 giveaways.
With a booming slap shot that travels in excess of 100 miles per hour, strong physical play, dedicated shot-blocking, the ability to take the puck away from others and the ability to skate and carry the puck up-ice, Weber is the NHL’s most complete defenseman today. Lidstrom is still the best in the game, but Weber is not far behind.
The Predators would be wise to negotiate and achieve a long-term solution with Weber as soon as possible. After the 2011-2012 season, Weber will once again be a restricted free agent. In addition to Weber, others up for contract renewal include Ryan Suter (UFA), Sergei Kostitsyn (RFA) and Pekka Rinne (UFA). The Predators should try to reach a long-term deal before next year’s free agent period in order to have an understanding of how much cap space they will have to afford Suter and Rinne the big paydays they will likely command.