The Nashville Predators franchise is at a crossroads thanks to the 14-year offer sheet extended to Shea Weber by the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
There is absolutely no doubt the Philadelphia Flyers pounced on a vulnerable franchise in a vulnerable situation when they signed Shea Weber to his 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. And there was not a nefarious thing about it. The Flyers, like everyone else, played by the rules as they’re written.
Though I would love to be a fly on the wall during collective bargaining negotiations when Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider try to justify the need for term limits and a greater share of revenues when they’ve just signed three players for a total of $306 million and 40 years.
We’re going to go on the assumption here that the Flyers wouldn’t have signed Weber to a contract where he stands to make $13 million despite the threat of a lockout if they weren’t serious about getting him. And we’re also going on the assumption Weber would not have signed the deal if he really wanted to remain in Nashville. That being said, shame on him if the Predators match the offer and he demands a trade after the first year of the deal. When Weber signed the offer sheet, he did so knowing fully well his team could match the offer and expect him to live up to the terms of the contract.
When asked whether his client would be committed to playing in Nashville for the rest of his career if the Predators matched the offer, Weber’s agent all but said he has moved on.
“That’s a good question,” Jarrett Bousquet, Weber’s agent, said. “We wouldn’t enter into one of these offer sheets if it weren’t pointed in that direction (Philadelphia), but even going back to his arbitration last summer, if Nashville were to match it would be business as usual and we’d have to re-evaluate that in a year. It’s one of those decisions where you have to look at ownership stability, hockey ops and lifestyle going forward and Shea felt Philadelphia is the best fit at this point.”
The Predators have three options. The first is to do nothing and get four first round picks, two of which might turn out to be regular NHL players. Forget that one.
The second is to match the offer and put your budget completely out of whack. GM David Poile has gone on the record as saying there is no way the Predators can afford front-loaded contracts.
The third, and this is the one that is most intriguing, is to use the next six days to work out a deal with the Flyers that will see them send young players and prospects to the Predators in exchange for not matching the offer sheet.
Good on the Predators if they think they can match this offer, still stay afloat financially and mend fences with Weber. It looks like an impossible trifecta, which leaves Poile with the task of making the best of a terrible situation.
So what if Poile tells Flyers GM Paul Holmgren that he will waive the right to match and take the four first-round picks if he does a side deal that would see, say, defenseman Braydon Coburn or Nicklas Grossmann, center Sean Couturier, 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton and top defense prospect Erik Gustafsson for a third-round pick?
(The only caveat here is that when Grossmann and Coburn signed their current deals, they had to submit a list of 12 teams to which they could veto a trade. It’s not known whether Nashville is on either of their lists, but you’d have to think there’s a good chance the Predators are not on both.)
This way, Philadelphia would get its franchise defenseman and replacement for Chris Pronger. The Predators would essentially get six first-round picks (if you include Couturier and Laughton) and an excellent head start on the rebuilding process. And they could take the $7 million to $8 million they were willing to pay Weber and pay it to someone else, either this year or in the future. (Remember, it’s not the cap hit that makes this deal unworkable from a Nashville standpoint. It’s the $52 million Weber will receive in signing bonuses in the first four years of the deal.)
Neither Coburn nor Grossmann replaces Weber, but they’re serviceable blueliners under contract for another four years, Coburn at $4.5 million per season and Grossmann at $3.5 million. In his rookie season, Couturier showed the potential to become one of the best two-way centers in the game. Gustafsson is under contract for one more year at $900,000 before he becomes a restricted free agent and is the Flyers top prospect. Laughton was picked 20th overall in June, which is about as high as the Predators can hope their next four first-rounders to be, so you hope two or three of them work out.
Does all of this replace Weber for the Predators? It’s hard to say because there are so many uncertainties. It certainly makes them a lesser team in the short term. But those assets, combined with the $8 million you have in cap space going forward, make it all a little more palatable for Nashville. And let’s not forget that even with Ryan Suter and Weber in the lineup, the Predators have been out of the first round of the playoffs only twice.
A compromise between matching the offer and blowing things up and starting over is achievable here. And now that we’ve almost certainly seen the last of these kinds of deals – really, we have, right? – the Predators can take comfort in knowing they’ll likely never be put in this situation again.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
(Editor's note: the fact the Predators have been out of the first round twice was corrected from an original error.)