Several injuries could force Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber to the sidelines for the entirety of 2021-22 campaign - and perhaps for good. His potential absence raises the question of how they'll replace the 35-year-old defenseman.
The combination of nagging injuries and his age slowed Weber in recent years. Nevertheless, he remained a blueline stalwart for the Canadiens, averaging 22:42 in ice time and netting 19 points in 48 games. They'll miss his leadership, experienced defensive skill and physical presence.
With $67.4 million invested in 15 players and free agents such as Phillip Danault, Corey Perry and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to re-sign or replace, the Canadiens wouldn't have enough cap space to add a top-two, right-side defenseman. However, they could get $7.857 million in cap relief by placing Weber on long-term injury reserve if approval is received from the league.
Finding a suitable replacement, however, won't be easy.
Free-agent options include Carolina's Dougie Hamilton, Edmonton's Tyson Barrie and Tampa Bay's David Savard. Hamilton and Barrie are skilled puck-movers but their defensive game is average at best. Hamilton could also cost around $8 million annually to sign. Savard is defensively responsible but lacks offensive skills.
Ryan Suter became available this week when the Minnesota Wild bought out his contract. He could be an affordable signing but the 36-year-old is also a left-side blueliner.
Columbus' Seth Jones is the prominent right-side defenseman on Frank Seravalli's list of this summer potential trade candidates for Daily Faceoff. The 26-year-old is a year away from UFA status and could be reluctant to sign a long-term contract extension before next summer.
Other right-side defensemen on Servalli's list include Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen and Nashville's Dante Fabbro.