Shea Weber is currently a restricted free agent and is eligible for the open market in July of 2013. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Defenseman Ryan Suter’s decision to sign a 13-year, $98-million contract with the Minnesota Wild came as a shock to his former team, the Nashville Predators - and especially captain Shea Weber.
Like GM David Poile, Weber was stunned by his now-former defense partner’s decision. Kevin Epp, one of Weber’s agents, remarked last Friday his client was “still in disbelief” and “still processing this news.”
Suter’s departure puts even more pressure on Poile to re-sign his captain and it could have an effect on those negotiations.
A year ago, Poile took Weber to arbitration, where the blueliner was awarded a one-year, $7.5-million contract.
That raised concerns about the difficulty of re-signing Weber to a long-term extension, but the defenseman claimed he had put the arbitration process behind him.
The Predators were considered to be on track to compete for the Stanley Cup and after signing goaltender Pekka Rinne last season to a long-term deal, the odds of retaining their two best defensemen looked good.
With Suter now in Minnesota, however, some pundits wonder if Poile can keep Weber in the fold.
USA Today’s Kevin Allen weighed in last Friday by suggesting Poile follow the lead of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and how he handled center Jordan Staal: offer up a lengthy, expensive contract and if it’s rejected, trade the player as soon as possible.
That opinion was echoed by David Climer of The Tennessean, who figures it will cost at least 10 years at $10 million per season to keep Weber in Nashville.
It’s a logical suggestion. Weber is a restricted free agent and only one year away from being eligible for unrestricted free agency.
If he prefers a one-year extension, which would qualify him for unrestricted free agent status next summer, it would put the Predators in the same position they were with Suter, which Poile undoubtedly doesn’t want to repeat.
Should Poile put Weber on the trade block, there would be no shortage of interest in his services.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post believes Weber, unlike Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Rick Nash, is a franchise player worth an expensive return.
For Brooks, every Ranger not named Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Chris Kreider should be “on the table.”
While the Rangers need more offense Brooks believes Weber, with his offensive skills from the blueline, would address that need and boost the power play.
Another club that should have serious interest in Weber is the Detroit Red Wings, who lost out in the bidding for Suter and need a replacement for the retired Nicklas Lidstrom.
While the Red Wings felt some animosity toward Weber for slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass during a playoff game this past spring, one has to believe all would be forgiven if they could land him via trade.
Uncertainty over the future of defenseman Chris Pronger would leave the Philadelphia Flyers interested, while the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes would likely kick the tires.
For now, however, the Predators hope to entice Weber to remain in Nashville. They’ll undoubtedly prepare a significant offer and try to sweeten things by landing a decent replacement for Suter via the trade market.
Amidst all this uncertainty one thing is for sure: it’s shaping up to be a summer of anxiety for Predators fans.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.