Boclair: Spotlight on Suter

Monday, January 9, 2012 at 10:05pm

With Shea Weber out, Ryan Suter’s success may have given him the motivation to explore free agency.

It seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen to the Nashville Predators.

An injury to Shea Weber, however severe, took away the captain, the player with the biggest shot, and the biggest, most physical presence on the blue line, not to mention the leading scorer and trigger on the power play.

That was a lot for one team to overcome, even for four games, which is the length of time Weber ultimately was sidelined with a concussion. Seemingly undaunted, the Predators won three of those four, although two of the victories came in shutouts.

No problem after all, huh? Not so fast.

Despite the fact that Nashville managed Weber’s absence effectively, the injury still was not a good thing because it gave Ryan Suter a taste of life without the defense partner he has had for virtually the entirety of his professional career.

It is no secret that franchise owners and officials want to keep Weber and Suter together for as long as possible.

Theirs is a fruitful pairing, to say the least, if not necessarily an equitable one.

Together, they are recognized as one of the best, if not the best defensive tandem in the world.

Individually, though, Suter (the seventh overall pick and first defenseman selected in 2003) lives in Weber’s shadow. Weber is the one who finished as runner-up for the Norris Trophy after the 2010-11 season and is considered a favorite to win it this season. He is also the one who has been invited to take part in each of the last two NHL All-Star games.

As coach Barry Trotz said last spring during the playoffs, Weber plays a “loud” game. Consequently, he attracts a lot of attention.

Suter might actually be the better player. He is similar to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom in that he not only makes the easy plays looks easy, he makes the hard plays look easy. He does all the little things that allow Weber to produce his headline-grabbing moments.

In short, he is the vice president to Weber’s role as chief executive. Sure, you know his name, but who really is interested in paying much attention to him?

This is not to suggest that any sort of professional jealousy exists between the two. Theirs is a genuine friendship, and they revel in what they can accomplish together.

Still, spend any amount of time talking to Suter and it is clear that he understands fully how good he is. It’s not that he’s arrogant — he’s not. It’s that he possesses a measure of self-assurance that only exists among the elite in the sports world. Even Weber does not have it.

There has to be a part of Suter, therefore, that wonders what it must be like to be “the man.” He no doubt thinks about what it must be like to be the guy your team looks to in every key situation instead of just half the time, at best.

For four games until the Dallas Stars came to town on Thursday he found out. Players looked to him for information and inspiration. Media wanted to know what he had to say on all happenings. Coaches sent him over the boards time and time again, particularly during overtime periods.

There’s a pretty good chance he enjoyed it, and if that was the case, it likely served as additional motivation to pursue his free agent options at the end of this season (as if the promise of untold riches was not motivation enough).

Suter knows now that he can play without Weber (not that he ever doubted it) and that he can help a team win more often than not.

In that regard, Weber’s injury was the worst thing that could have happened to the Predators.