Preds blueliners Weber, Suter honored by NHL

BY foxsports • January 12, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan said it in December.

Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan made a reference to it last week.

What had been casually thrown around for much of the season, if not before — that the Predators' defense tandem of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber is the best in the NHL — might have received a semi-official stamp of approval on Thursday when both were named to the NHL All-Star team.

Suter, a first-time selection, and Weber, a three-time selection, are the only defensemen from the same team named to the Jan. 29 game in Ottawa. Suter ranks second in the NHL in time-on-ice-per-game at 27 minutes, has five goals and 20 assists (fifth on the team) and is plus-8. Weber, who was a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season as the NHL's top defenseman and is a favorite to win the award this season, is fourth in average ice time and leads Nashville in points (30) and in plus/minus (plus-13 rating).

Underscoring the pair's importance to the team is the fact that only one other defenseman on the roster does not have a negative rating — rookie Ryan Ellis, who has only played in six games.

Because of his scoring ability from the blue line — he has averaged 18.3 goals each of the past three seasons — and his ability to dole out big hits, Weber stands out to the fans. Suter's game is much more subtle, but almost equally effective.

Coach Barry Trotz re-iterated Thursday that he thinks both players will win a Norris during their careers, and he said that while fans might not be as aware of Suter's worth, hockey people are.

Trotz said Suter's coming-out party started with the 2010 Olympics, when Suter helped the United States win a silver medal. Trotz heard first-hand from the U.S. coach, Ron Wilson, who is now Toronto's coach but who coached against Suter when he was head man for the San Jose Sharks for several seasons.

"When I talked to Ronnie, he couldn't believe how good of a player Ryan was," Trotz said. "He didn't realize he was that good. Then, obviously, with the playoffs, he's been matching up against the top people, and people have taken notice. I think maybe (Suter)'s under the radar a little bit in terms of the general public, but if you're talking to hockey people who are around the game a lot and who have a good eye for the game, they know he's not under the radar, he's one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League."

Last year, the pair matched up in the first-round with what was widely regarded as the league's top line during the regular season — Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry — and helped to neutralize them. The trio combined for 103 goals during the regular season, and Perry won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP. Yet during the six-game series, Perry and Getzlaf were held to two goals apiece, and Ryan three. Teemu Selanne, who played on a different line and avoided the Weber-Suter pairing, did the damage offensively with six goals in six games.

In the second round, Weber and Suter helped to keep Henrik and Daniel Sedin — two of the League's top regular season point earners — in check for much of the six-game series, but they had a harder time defending Vancouver's wily Ryan Kesler.

Weber, who has received his share of accolades, said the honor was recognition for Suter.

"Yeah, without a doubt," he said. "We all know how good he is here. It's nice to see and, obviously, the whole hockey world's realizing how good he is."

While Suter said he was excited, he seemed somewhat blasé about the honor. At one point, he said he did not want to participate in the SuperSkills competition for fear that he might fall down.

Suter is the second generation of his family to play in an All-Star Game — his uncle Gary also did it.

"It's exciting," Suter said. "I'm obviously very excited about it, but at the same time I know we have to do a job here and win here and that's the most important thing."

As smart as Suter is, perhaps one aspect he is not looking forward to is the amount of media attention he will receive. Somewhat reclusive, he will be hounded about his contract status — especially with the game being played in a Canadian city, which could bring with it much more media than last year's game in Raleigh.

In 2008 when Atlanta's Marian Hossa — another player who does not exactly seek the limelight — was in a similar situation, he was forced to answer one question after another during his media availability and looked visibly uncomfortable doing so. A few weeks later, Hossa was gone, shipped to Pittsburgh when he wouldn't sign a contract extension.

Like Hossa in '08, Suter will be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. Predators general manager David Poile said Friday on Nashville radio that what was holding up an agreement was Suter's willingness to sign.

If Suter — and then Weber, a restricted free agent as of July 1 — re-up, fans might know for years that Nashville is the capital not only of country music, but also the NHL's best defense pair. The alternative is something the Preds or their fans don't want to have to think about.

For now, they both can enjoy the game — and the honor.


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