The Philadelphia Flyers’ signing of restricted Shea Weber to a 14-year offer sheet is either a fortunate stroke of luck for the Nashville Predators or the worst news the franchise has ever received.
The Predators have one week to decide whether to match the offer and keep Weber, or accept compensation that would probably be four first-round draft picks, depending upon the value of his contract.
Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet has reported that the contract value is $110 million, which would make it the second-richest contract in NHL history behind Alex Ovechkin’s $124 million deal with the Washington Capitals.
If the reported figure is accurate, it means an average salary of $7.8 million for a player that might be the league’s best all-around defensemen in terms of offensive ability, defensive ability and intimidation.
The salary cap hit won’t be the issue for the Predators because undoubtedly they were expecting to pay more than $8 million per season. Weber received $7.5 million from an arbitrator to play last season.
The issue is the front-loaded money. According to Kypreos, the contract pays Weber a $1 million salary and a $13 million signing bonus in each of the first four years and then a $4 million salary and an $8 million bonus in the fifth and sixth years, followed by a $6 million salary over the next four seasons. He would finish up his contract with salaries of $3 million in the 11th year, followed by $1 million salaries in the three remaining years.
The decision will center on whether the Nashville ownership group is able and willing to come up with that much money in that short span of time. That’s a significant cash outlay for a smaller market team that was ranked 24th out of 30 NHL teams in payroll last season. The $28 million due Weber over the next 11 months represents about 53% of the $52 million the Predators spent on players in 2011-12.
Over the next six years, the Predators or Flyers will be paying Weber $80 million.
If the Predators can come up with the up-front money and make peace with harsh reality of the first six seasons, then the Flyers really did the Predators a favor because the Nashville franchise needed to get Weber, who will be an unrestricted free agent summer, signed before this season starts. The big story all of last season in Nashville was Suter’s contract negotiations. It was an annoying situation that ended badly for the Predators who lost Suter without receiving any compensation.
If Weber entered the 2012-13 season without a contract that scenario could be repeated. Once a player moves that close to unrestricted free agency, why wouldn’t he decide what is out there for him next summer?
The Predators have said in the past that they would match any offer sheet made to Weber. If they don’t do it now, how do they face their fans? The Predators are a true Stanley Cup contender with Weber, and a true unknown without him. If he ends up in Philadelphia, Weber certainly has the potential to alter the balance of power. At the very least, he makes the Flyers significantly better prepared to play against top teams.
If the Predators match Weber’s offer, the team now is set for years with Weber as the team’s captain and centerpiece of their offense and defensive attack.
If they don’t match the offer, the franchise will be set back for a few years. Remember, they have already lost Ryan Suter to free agency. If Weber ends up in a Philadelphia jersey, the Predators have completely lost their identity. No NHL team can lose their top two defensemen, their best overall players, and expect to be the same team.
The Predators have a good drafting record, and maybe Nashville can spin straw into gold with four first-round picks. But if the Predators don’t match, Weber probably assures Philadelphia will be a major contender for the Stanley Cup over the next few years. It should be noted that Nashville drafted Weber in the second round. But those Philadelphia picks are going to be low first round picks. The odds of the Predators of finding a star player of Weber’s magnitude with those picks are not in Nashville’s favor.
No one understands how these offer sheets can impact a team more than Nashville general manager David Poile. In 1990, he was Washington’s GM when the St. Louis Blues gave an offer sheet to defenseman Scott Stevens who was as important to the Capitals as Weber is to Nashville.
Poile chose not to match, and accepted the compensation of five first round picks. Those picks became Trevor Halverson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Nolan Baumgartner and Miika Elomo. Poile has said in interviews through the years that he regretted his decision to let Stevens leave.