When I was in grade school, whenever I waited until the last minute to do a project, that’s when the printer would run out of ink. It was a near guarantee. That’s how I feel about the Nashville Predators right now. Blame the current CBA, blame the Flyers, blame the league, blame Weber and Suter, but at the end of the day, they have no one to blame but themselves for being on the brink of losing their two best players this July.
As I’m sure everyone and their mother-in-law knows by now, the Flyers have signed Predators RFA defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet worth $110 million over 14 years. This includes $26 million in the first calendar year based on the structure of the contract. The Preds have a week to match it. If they don’t, the Flyers get Weber and Nashville gets four 1st round picks from the Flyers in return.
The $7.86 million cap hit isn’t the problem for the Predators. That’s more than fair (a bargain, really) for a player of the caliber of Weber. The Predators are over $10 million under the cap floor, so they need to spend the money there anyway. The problem is that $26 million in the first year. Nashville has a tight budget and likely only planned to be a few million over the floor like they were last season. If they need to pay Weber that kind of money, they’re now way over budget and it will cripple them financially.
So now Nashville is faced with a choice. If they part ways, they send a terrible message to the fans and take a step or two back next season but retain some sort of financial solvency. If they retain Weber, they’ll keep one of the best defensemen in the league on their squad, but they’re going to have to set up at all the major Tennessee intersections asking for spare change.
Obviously, the Predators really want to keep Weber around. Heck, they wanted to keep Suter around as well, but everyone knew that was a pipedream. So to lose both players would be terrible.
But I think it’s going to happen.
Given the way the deal if structured, I think it would be foolish for the Predators to match it. Had the Flyers made it less frontloaded (which had a 0% chance of happening), it would have taken about as long as it would take to fill out the paperwork for the Predators to match it. The contract has $68 million in bonuses in the first 6 years. That’s about how much the Predators would like to pay their entire team over that same span.
How did it get to this point? That’s what I want to know. Most teams with superstars (or just their best players) make sure they get them signed well in advance of free agency, even if their guy is a restricted free agent. It makes life simpler and it prevents either side from getting too frustrated. With a new CBA being negotiated to have a potentially lower cap and restrictions of contract length, Weber probably wanted a long term deal worth a lot of money sooner rather than later. What was GM David Poile thinking? I can only guess…
Apparently, Poile was trying to work out a trade for Weber. I’ve heard that he was asking for both Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn from the Flyers in a deal. That’s just not going to happen. Couturier is all but untouchable and Schenn would only be available for just a few players around the league, Weber being one of them. But both of them? Forget it. For the most part, if a team knows that you are desperate to move a player, the ball is in your hands. They hold the chips. They’ll call your bluff and wait you out if you’re asking for too much. Or, if you’re negotiating with Paul Holmgren, he’ll send an offer sheet that he’s pretty confident that you won’t be able to match.
To me, however, the elephant in the room, which no one seems to want to talk about, is Pekka Rinne. The Preds signed him to a lucrative extension worth $49 million over 7 years. Rinne is clearly a great goalie, but how good will he be without Suter and Weber in front of him? Each defenseman averaged over 26 minutes per game last season, which takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the defense, which got considerably greener pending the decision on Weber. Without a doubt, the Predators are going to struggle to play as tight on defense as they have in the past few years.
I question the wisdom of the Rinne deal. Nashville had to know that teams might do something a little unprecedented to try to grab Weber this offseason, especially considering how weak the free agent market is this summer. I think that the Predators would have been much better served to allow Rinne to walk at season’s end and instead use the money to make sure that Suter and Weber were locked up. Anders Lindback is a good goalie and could take over as a #1 NHL goalie. It might make some people scream bloody murder, but what would you rather have: Lindback with Weber and Suter or Rinne with Hal Gill and Ryan Ellis? Unfortunately, this is what happens when the myth of having a “top goalie at all costs is the most important thing in hockey” gets rolling too fast and dictates the way you run the team.
On top of all of that, does Weber even want to play in Nashville? Do the Preds sign him to a 14 year deal knowing that he’s not going to be happy there? There seem to be some problems in Nashville to me. They can’t keep their star players from being kind of eager to leave and don’t seem all too eager themselves to prevent from leaving.