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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Weber's absence devastating for Preds

By Pierre LeBrun

The Norris Trophy vote could be one of survival as much as performance.

Shea Weber now joins Chris Pronger and Kris Letang on the sidelines with a concussion. In a perfect world, they are three of your five top choices for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

Pronger is out for the season, Letang remains sidelined indefinitely and now Weber -- who was injured Friday night -- is out with the official word being that there is no timetable for his return.

However, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz clearly is hoping (praying?) for a Claude Giroux-like recovery from his franchise defenseman.

"There's no official timetable for his return but he's feeling better and I'm hoping there's a chance for him to return Friday," Trotz told me Tuesday afternoon. "But we'll see."

By now, most hockey fans have had it ingrained in their hockey lexicon that you can’t put a target date on a return from a concussion. It’s a day-to-day process in which you hope to string enough good days together to get the green light. For Giroux, that happened quickly. For Letang and many others, it hasn’t.

Like others before him this season, including the likes of Letang, Giroux and Andy McDonald, Weber didn’t become symptomatic until a few days later. Trotz told ESPN.com that Weber was fine after Friday’s game and didn’t show symptoms until Monday’s morning skate.

One thing’s for sure, the Preds are not pleased that Mark Fistric of the Dallas Stars wasn’t punished by the league for his forearm (some would say elbow) to Weber that caused the concussion late in Friday’s game. The league looked at the play, but the initial lack of quality video for replays limited any compelling evidence and, thus, the league’s ability to act.

A source told ESPN.com Wednesday evening that new video of the hit, which the league obtained, showed Weber falling forward just before getting hit by Fistric. So the league feels no discipline was warranted on the play.

Not that a suspension to Fistric would have changed the reality for the Preds. Their franchise player is out. As GM David Poile told ESPN.com earlier Tuesday, not all injuries and not all players are created equally. You don’t replace a player of Weber’s caliber. He plays 26 minutes a game, anchors the power play, is a key cog on the penalty kill and is matched up as the shutdown D-man against the other team’s top offensive weapon. Just ask Alex Ovechkin about that from the 2010 Olympic quarterfinals.

It’s not a hole in Nashville’s lineup, it’s a crater.

But if there’s a team that understands survival, it’s the Preds, who lose key players every offseason and plug those holes with homegrown drafted and developed players.

In this case, Ryan Ellis was called up and played his first NHL game Monday night. Nashville’s first-round pick, 11th overall, from the 2009 NHL entry draft is not being asked to replace Weber on his own -- no one can -- but he’s getting a chance to play significant minutes and show what he has learned so far at AHL Milwaukee.

"His pace has improved since we saw him at camp," Trotz said. "He’s a bright kid and obviously has lots of talent."

There’s only one thing, however, that will ease the nerves of the Predators' coach. A quick and healthy return of his captain.

Weber's agent is upset the NHL didn’t punish Fistric for his hit.

"It is very disappointing that Mark Fistric’s hit on Shea Weber in Dallas last Friday is not being looked at as a suspendable act," Jarrett Bousquet of Titan Sports Management Inc. told my TSN colleague Darren Dreger. "To me this is an illegal hit to the head and in complete violation of Rule 48. Fistric is a repeat offender and regardless of where the puck is, Fistric makes direct contact with Weber’s head resulting in a concussion. This is the exact kind of hit that the NHL is trying to eliminate. If the NHL wants to protect its superstars, or any player for that matter, hits like this should result in a suspension."

Reached by ESPN.com after the statement was released to TSN, Bousquet maintained his frustration.

"I just don’t understand how that was swept under the carpet," Bousquet said.

The league has pointed to the lack of a quality video replay from the incident last Friday and thus the lack of compelling evidence in its decision not to suspend Fistric. Fistric's agent, Gerry Johansson, declined comment when reached by ESPN.com.

Bousquet didn’t think a return this week was likely for Weber.

"He has to follow the protocol first and foremost and certainly has to be completely honest with himself," said Bousquet. "I don’t think there’s any real time table right now."