Sometime in the last few days out of nowhere, trade speculation surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs has heated up about yet another top-four defender. But this time, it isn’t Sami Vatanen or anyone else in Anaheim— it’s Shea Weber.
It’s pretty common knowledge that the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for a top-pair defenceman. Rumours have been swirling since almost the beginning of last season on who the Leafs will go after. So if the opportunity came to acquire a standout defenceman like Weber, why shouldn’t the Leafs go after him?
There are a number of reasons. One is his age. Weber is already 32 years old and still has an additional eight years remaining on his contract. The term remaining is literally the equivalent to Weber having just signed a new maximum-term contract. If Weber was 25 years old with eight years remaining, this is an entirely different story, but we’re far too late for that. We’ve seen some defencemen continue be prominent into their mid-thirties, but it’s fairly rare to see a defenceman who can reach the age of 40 and still be considered elite. Chances are, Weber’s decline is going to hit sooner rather than later and the Leafs should be watching from afar when it happens.
Picking up Weber also means that there isn’t a whole lot of room for Timothy Liljegren. Now, we can’t be sure that Liljegren will truly work out as a top-four defender— but he definitely won’t work with Weber around. With Nikita Zaitsev signed long-term, there would already be two right-handed shot defencemen on the team if Weber were in the mix. The counter-argument here is that if Liljegren were to turn out, Toronto could just trade Weber or Zaitsev, but considering both are locked in under contract for many years to come, either contract would be hard to move. As a result, the Leafs could end up in a situation similar to the Blackhawks, where they’re forced to trade away young talent, as opposed to having the young talent replace the veterans.
The next reason is cap space. Weber’s cap hit will be just under $8 million per season until 2026. It’s difficult to say a team wanting to “win now” should go after Weber, just based off of how much money he’s making. Most teams in a position to make a run don’t have anywhere near $8 million laying around and if it means moving key pieces and young players to acquire Weber, many wouldn’t even consider it.
Toronto is in the interesting situation where they will have cap space up until the end of next season and can potentially afford Weber short-term. But if they were to make any sort of deal with the Canadiens, it also lets Montreal out from under a terrible contract.
The Canadiens will have over $18 million spent on Price and Weber combined for another eight seasons starting next year. Price will be in Montreal until he’s 38 years old—Weber until he’s 40 years old. They’re both phenomenal assets to Montreal now, but give it a few years and their contracts will soon become a burden to the team.
Toronto is one of the teams who need a defenceman like Weber, so if they don’t go after him in his prime, the chance he gets moved in coming years just continues to decrease as his value does. If Montreal gets stuck with the $18 million between Weber and Price, they can try to rebuild as much as they want in coming years, but it will be extremely difficult without any cap space. Considering they’re a division rival, the conversation can be just as much about keeping Montreal accountable to their bad contract as it about Toronto staying away from it.
Montreal may need to rebuild soon and Toronto shouldn’t help them along. Montreal’s top prospects are the likes of Charles Hudon and Noah Juulsen, who, though solid players, aren’t going to be able to lead Montreal back to the top of the division. Considering that acquiring Weber also means sending back a lot of assets Montreal’s way, the trade would only speed up the Canadiens’ rebuild.
Not only could acquiring Weber hurt Toronto’s long-term success, keeping him locked in Montreal will ensure that the Leafs will be a few steps ahead of their division rival for the next little while. Toronto has a much brighter future than their biggest rivals and it’s best to keep it that way.