- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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OTTAWA -- It’s not every day a player breaks his own news at the All-Star break, but that’s just what Ryan Suter did Friday.
The star defenseman for the Nashville Predators turned what is usually a fluff-filled media availability into a headline when he let it slip during questioning that he did not think he would sign an extension before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
"I feel it would be more of a distraction than anything," Suter said of signing now. "We’ve never had a timeline or deadline. We’re just focusing on winning. Everything else will take care of itself."
Just to be perfectly clear, ESPN.com asked Suter again, was he saying he won’t sign before the trade deadline?
"I don’t see it being a benefit by hurrying up and trying to get something done," Suter confirmed. "I’m a Nashville Predator until July. I will focus on making my team better."
And with that, there was a little more clarity on what was already one of the most pressing situations in the NHL: Suter is UFA eligible on July 1, when he would easily be the most desired rearguard on the market.
Was Suter's admission Friday by design? Hard to say. But it’s been coming, said Suter’s defense partner and franchise captain. Shea Weber, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, figured the pressure was mounting on Suter with Feb. 27 drawing closer.
"I was surprised maybe that it took that long for him to get that off his chest," Weber said Friday at his media availability. "Obviously, we talk a lot. It’s been weighing for him a while. Obviously [Preds GM] David [Poile] has been trying to get a deal done. Ryan doesn’t want to deal with it now and that’s why he came forward and said that today."
Now the next move belongs to Poile, whose team has been on a tear in the past month, rising up the Western Conference standings, clearly playoff-bound and perhaps capable of a deep run.
Can he afford to move Suter before Feb. 27 given where his team sits in the standings? Can he afford not to if he stands to possibly lose such a huge asset this summer for nothing?
That’s why Poile would have loved to sign him before Feb. 27 to eliminate that difficult decision.
Part of Poile’s challenge this season has been to show both Suter and Weber that the Preds are in the process of shedding their image of small-budget dime counters who can’t compete financially with the Detroits and the Chicagos of the NHL world.
Poile has told Suter and Weber that the old days of Nashville playing on small payrolls are over.
"That’s the conversation we’ve been having,” Poile told ESPN.com via phone Friday, a few hours before Suter broke his news. "Those days are past. We have new ownership in place. They’ve made a commitment to me and the players and both Ryan and Shea know that, because of the dollars they’re going to be getting and what we need to do to win that Cup, we’ll be spending what is necessary to contend."
Right now, the Preds are a bottom-five payroll. But if Suter and Weber sign on the dotted line over the next few months, that will obviously change.
"I know we’re one of the lowest payrolls this year, but going forward that will no longer be the case," stressed Poile.
But can he convince Suter and Weber of that?
"I think that’s the hardest part, you look at the past and seeing guys go through your team like Forsberg, Timonen, Hartnell -- you go down the list, all you see is guys leaving," Weber said. "You want to believe him [Poile], they’ve got the right things in mind. If they say they’re going to do it [increase payroll], then they should do it and we’ve got to trust them."
Suter has communicated to Poile a desire to see the GM improve the team before the trade deadline, and Poile is trying to do just that ahead of Feb. 27.
Would that be enough for Suter to sign after the season?
"We have a lot of good players in our room," Suter said. "Not saying you gotta go out and get a big-name guy -- just the right piece.
"I want [to] help our team win the Stanley Cup and being in a place that we can go get more players and the pieces we need to help us win," Suter added.
Similarly, Weber is also sitting back and watching things unfold. Because he signed a one-year deal last summer after going to arbitration, the Predators weren’t allowed to talk contract with him until Jan. 1. Not that it mattered, Weber -- like Suter, as it turns out -- wants to wait until after the season.
"As soon as Jan. 1 rolled around, I told them right away that I didn’t want to negotiate during the season," Weber said. "I dealt with enough stress and pressure last summer going through arbitration and the negotiations. Right away, I put it on the back burner. We can use the summer and the next year to try and get something done."
And so, all of it now falls squarely on the shoulders of Poile. His team is at the most important crossroads in franchise history. His two most important skaters, homegrown Predators players, hold all the cards as to whether Nashville will indeed compete with the big boys for years to come or be depleted -- and set back for years -- by their exit.
"We had the good fortune of drafting them and seeing them develop into top NHL players, into being All-Stars, into being arguably the best defense pair in the National Hockey League," Poile told ESPN.com. "It’s our plan and our desire to sign them both. I think our team has proved over the last quarter of the season that despite the changes we made in the offseason -- arguably taking a step backwards and having to change some veteran players and replacing them with some of our up-and-coming players -- that we did it with a purpose. We’re trying to win a Stanley Cup. We felt that was the best way to go.
"And secondly, we had to clear some dollars last summer so we could sign Pekka Rinne, as we did. I said at the beginning of the season that I thought hopefully we could be better in the second half of the season. We needed to get these young guys acclimated. Right now, we’re tracking pretty well there. So I hope that Suter and Weber see that the development process doesn’t just work for them but it’s working for other younger players on our team. I think all the pieces are just about in place to be competitive for a number of years. But we need to re-sign Suter and Weber to make all that come to fruition."
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