During last season’s training camp, Mike Weber made a statement to the press. “This is my year,” he bluntly said. He hit the ice in that pre-season to do everything in his power to back those words up, but fell short. Maybe the competition was too steep, or maybe the team’s defense was already just too deep.
He would wind up the odd man out, once again, and was returned to the AHL.
A third round pick of the Sabres in 2006, Weber had had enough of waiting. He wasn’t willing to let go of that sentiment – “This is my year.” As a result, it was his year. He stayed determined as ever, and skated as a man among boys in the AHL last season. He was an easy choice for the AHL All-Star team. His locking into a NHL roster spot for the 2010-11 season was inevitable.
And it couldn’t have been more timely for the Buffalo Sabres.
In a recent editorial interview with The Buffalo News, Terry Pegula wouldn’t let the interview come to conclusion before pointing out how much he felt the losses of Hank Tallinder and Toni Lydman hurt the team. He noted that Lydman currently leads the NHL in +/- (he’s a +26), and that the struggles of young Tyler Myers early on this year were largely due to the loss of his defensive partner in Tallinder.
“If we still had those two guys, we’d have ten more wins,” Pegula said.
Fair enough, Terry – but eventually, one or both of those guys would have to make way for the next generation of Sabres defencemen. Most are still on the way – Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb, Jerome Gautier-Leduc are all very promising, but are also a year or more away from being NHL ready. Mike Weber – he was ready last year.
There just wasn’t any room.
The team defense has certainly had its struggles as it was forced to begin a premature transition away from the Tallinder/Lydman era, but it’s not because of #6. Weber has emerged as a force on the Sabres’ shaky defense, and some of his stats might startle fans – especially since no one seems to be paying any attention to them. Pegula should take note:
Currently, Weber leads the entire team in +/-, with a +12 rating. It’s a generous number, and the only one in double digits on a team that features only 11 players on the plus side of that statistic.
His 50 penalty minutes are good enough for 5th best on the team.
He has 96 hits, just trailing Gaustad, (104) and Kaleta, (108).
His 67 shots blocked place him at 3rd in that category.
If you want to talk points, he has quietly put 3 goals and 7 assists on the board, 10 points that are good enough for 17th amongst his teammates.
But perhaps most important of all is the fact that he has compiled all of this with only 38 games played. He had been a healthy scratch at the opening of the season, and has had to battle back from a few injuries. Along the way, he has emerged not as a stop-gap solution for the loss of Tallinder and Lydman, but as the most consistent player on the back end for the Blue and Gold.
Weber doesn’t have the flash and dash of Tyler Myers, or the reputation of Steve Montador. He didn’t come to the team as an important free agent acquisition, like Shaone Morrisonn or Jordan Leopold. It was Morrisonn and Leopold who were to be the replacements for Hank and Toni, and they’ve played well enough.
No defenseman on the roster, however, has provided the walloping impact that Mike Weber has brought to the team this season. His success has, up until now, gone largely unnoticed – except by his coach. Lindy Ruff addressed the media after one practice, as far back as December 10, 2010, about the emergence of Weber, as noted by Andy Boron over at “Die by the Blade:”
“In speaking with the media after practice yesterday, Lindy Ruff had growing praise for Mike Weber. “I think we’re getting all we thought we could get,” said the coach. “There’s a lot of good things about his game. There’s some limitations but at the same time other teams don’t like playing against him.”
When was the last time the Sabres had a guy you could say that about?
Ruff continued, “I’ve seen the kid play real hard, physical. He’s made a few mistakes, but those mistakes have been only a few here or there; it’s been overshadowed by what I would call ‘strong play.’”
Really, when was the last time the Sabres had a guy you could say that about?
When asked about the loss of Drury and Briere in that editorial interview, Pegula concluded “It’s done. It’s time to move on.” Well, the Sabres are moving on since parting ways with Tallinder and Lydman. It turns out that Shaone Morrisonn is servicing as the stop-gap guy this season. As for Weber, he is turning out to be a critical component of the Buffalo Sabres.
He is among the leaders on the team in many statistical categories. He is raising the eyebrows of the coaching staff. He is helping to win back those 10 lost games for his new owner. He is putting fear into the stomachs of the opposition.
Finally, this is Mike Weber’s year.