Things were much easier for Shea Weber when his only concern was a piece of plywood.
Then, when he was a boy in British Columbia, he could wail away at hockey pucks all day and if the plywood he positioned in front of the net in his yard got the worst of it, so be it.
Now that he’s a 24-year-old with one of the hardest slap shots on the planet, the Nashville Predators’ defenseman has other things to worry about — namely the well-being of his teammates.
Roughly three weeks ago in a game against Detroit, forward Jordin Tootoo sustained a broken foot when he was hit with a puck off the stick of Weber. The injury was expected to keep him out of action for up to six weeks.
“I definitely don’t want to hit guys on my team,” Weber said. “It’s real unfortunate. I didn’t mean to hit Toots. He was coming across and I just unloaded.”
While not common, Tootoo’s injury was not exactly a one-time only incident either. In fact, it was the third of its kind in a span of approximately eight months.
David Legwand sustained a fractured cheekbone late in March when a Weber shot deflected up off the stick of a teammate during a practice. Legwand had not missed a game all season but was forced to sit out the final 11 of the 2008-09 season.
Several days after Legwand got whacked, Martin Erat got in front of one of Shea's blasts during a victory over Detroit and sustained a broken leg. Erat had seven points in the three games before he was injured and was forced to miss the final eight.
“For every guy who goes down, there are a lot of Patric Hornqvist goals on redirections or somebody else picking up a loose puck,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s just part of the job in this league. You have to go to the front of the net, and a lot of our guys do that.”
It was last January during the NHL All-Star game’s SuperSkills night in Montreal that Weber verified what everyone had suspected for some time — that his shot was one of the hardest in the league. Second hardest, in fact.
He was one of six players chosen to compete in the Hardest Shot competition and he delivered a 103.4 mile-per-hour rocket that for much of the event was the time to beat. Only the final participant, Boston’s Zdeno Chara, topped it when he set a record of 105.4 miles per hour.
“I’ve always just worked on my shot,” said the 6-foot-4, 234-pound Weber. “It always was fairly hard for my age, I think, growing up but as I got bigger and stronger it just kind of came.”
The conditions of the Hardest Shot contest allow players the time and space to crank one harder than they probably can in a game. So while it’s unclear just how fast the puck comes off Weber’s stick during live action, there’s no debate about its potential effects.
Or side effects.
“If you get hit with it, it’s going to hurt — no question,” captain Jason Arnott, who regularly goes to the front of the net when Weber is at the point, said. “There’s no way you’re getting out of the way of it. You just kind of hope that it doesn’t hit you in the non-padded spots and you hope it goes in. It’s tough to get in front of his shot because it’s so hard.”
Of course, the benefits of Weber’s shot are as obvious as the potential pitfalls.
Last season he set a franchise record for goals by a defenseman with 23, which was tied for the fourth-highest total by any NHL defenseman in the last 15 years. His 54 career goals (in 277 games) are second most all-time by a Nashville blue-liner.
On Saturday, Weber unleashed a career-high 10 shots on goal, converting on his last blast in the Preds' 4-1 win over Anaheim.
He also is particularly lethal on the power play, where he converted a team-high 10 times last season and 27 times (second among all Nashville defensemen) in his career.
Those numbers don’t include the ones that went in off the sticks or assorted body parts of teammates or the ones which led to scrambles around the net that resulted in rebound goals.
“With Webby’s shot, he can usually beat the goalie one-on-one a lot of the time,” Arnott said. “You just try to get in front of the goalie as quick as possible and give him that little distraction.”
Then you get out of the way — if at all possible.
The latest injury could not have come at a worse time for Tootoo. With two goals and seven assists, he was off to one of the best offensive starts of his career, a stretch which included a career-long run of four straight games with an assist.
He had missed the first 13 games with a hip flexor strain sustained in training camp, but the Predators won eight of the first 10 once he returned to the lineup.
After the game, as he leaned on crutches in the locker room just a few feet from Weber’s stall, Tootoo chuckled at the circumstances and chalked them up to happenstance.
Increasingly in recent seasons, though, teammates playfully have pleaded with Weber to ease up when they’re in front of the net.
“I’ve heard it all before,” he said. “There’re some guys that are brave. It’s a tough job getting in front of the net, and we need guys to do that. Guys pay the price and they get rewarded.”
Or they end up in pain. A lot of pain.