Shea Weber: Please give up fighting
To Shea Weber:
You are one of the best defensemen in the NHL, possibly the best. On an average, annual basis, you earn more money than any other player at your position in the league.
At age 26, you have a long career ahead of yourself. It is likely to be lucrative and distinguished. As your coach Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators has often said, he thinks some day you will win the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. A finalist last season, this could be the year.
Who knows what other hardware you might win in the future. Perhaps a Clarence Campbell Bowl – whether you choose to pick it up or not, as the captain of the Western Conference champion is so entitled or disinclined? Perhaps a Conn Smythe? A Hart Trophy?
The sky seems the limit.
That is why I respectfully suggest: Please do not fight anymore.
You threw a scare into your team and your fans when you recently missed four games from Dec. 24 to Jan. 4 with a concussion, as a result of a high hit from Dallas' Mark Fistric. Concussions have become the evil scourge of your sport. They are unpredictable and can keep players out from a relatively short amount of time to months, seemingly even years. They end careers.
They are best not trifled with. Many a promising young player has had his career derailed by them. In Atlanta, defenseman Garnet Exelby, at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, was one of the game's most feared hitters, a tough fighter and a productive defenseman. He was a plus player for two years in a row on some not-so-great defensive teams, including one that made the playoffs.
While concussions have not ended his playing career, they have removed that edge that made him feared. After a series of concussions, his game has never been the same. For the last two seasons he has played in the American Hockey League. He is 30 and has not played in the NHL in almost two years.
Concussions do not discriminate against small or marginal players. You are 6-4 and weigh 232 pounds, making you one of the league's biggest and strongest players. But even Chris Pronger (6-6, 210), Scott Stevens (6-0, 200), perhaps the most feared hitter of all time and one of the best to ever play your position, and Eric Lindros (6-4, 230) have been felled by concussions – the latter two having had their careers ended by them.
Fighting has been a part of the culture of the NHL since its inception and for a physical player like yourself, who is perhaps the game's hardest hitter, fighting is often part of the bargain. It's understandable that you will be challenged from time to time and that you will feel the occasional need to drop your gloves. Don't do it.
You know how valuable you are to your team. Five minutes in the penalty box is five minutes your team can do without. Asked if he counseled you about not fighting the day you returned from your concussion on Jan. 5, Trotz said, "I think with your top players every coach, says, ‘Hey, if we have a trade-off, that's probably not a good trade-off.' I think that's probably, obviously, twenty-nine other coaches would probably say the same thing. So just play his normal game. Shea's not shy to back down from any of that, but just play your normal game."
As a result of your value to the team on the ice, along with your reputation as a feared fighter, your fighting majors have fallen in recent seasons from between three and four a season. Officially, you had none last season, although, you said you were involved in one for which you received a double-minor.
You know the dangers of fighting as well as anyone. As a result of a fight with you on Feb. 28, 2009, Andreas Lilja (6-3, 220), then of Detroit, suffered a concussion. He did not return for a full calendar year – March, 1, 2010.
"Obviously, I feel bad," you said in November 2009. "It's a situation that just kind of happened on the ice, but you don't ever want anything bad like that to happen. Tempers flare and fights happen, but you definitely don't like to see that. ...
"I just wish him all the best. I hope he can recover and come back and be the player he was before."
Recently, you were asked if you would give up fighting. You said no while also noting that fighting is on the decline in the NHL. Brian Burke, the general manager of Toronto Maple Leafs who espouses a physically intimidating style of play, lamented as much recently in sending enforcer Colton Orr to the minors.
"If it happens, it happens," you said of the possibility of fighting. "It's obviously not as prevalent in the game as it used to be, but some teams still have more of those players."
Just don't make yourself one of them. It's understandable that you don't want your opponents to know that you won't fight. Keep the secret to yourself. You don't have to disavow fighting publicly. Just don't fight. You have too much to risk and too little to gain.