Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Time for Shea Weber to prove himself
By Scott Burnside
We found out what kind of organization the Nashville Predators are when they swallowed hard and matched the Philadelphia Flyers' potentially soul-sapping $110 million offer sheet for defenseman Shea Weber on Tuesday afternoon.
Now we're going to find out what kind of guy Weber is.
Faced with the prospect of having to shell out $27 million in the next 12 months and $68 million in bonus money in the first six years of this monster 14-year deal, the Predators realized they had no choice but to meet an offer sheet that was designed exclusively to cripple a small-market franchise.
Kudos to a team that for years was included, rightly or wrongly, in every story about teams in danger of relocating or about the illogical nature of NHL expansion.
That team hasn't existed for some time now. In spite of failing to re-sign defenseman Ryan Suter, who departed Nashville for Minnesota as an unrestricted free agent on July 4, the Predators' decision to ante up and match the Flyers' offer sheet for Weber speaks volumes, not just about the team they are but also about the team they want to be.
Now it's up to their captain and most important player to make sure this decision was the right one.
Weber, along with GM David Poile and members of the team's ownership group, will speak publicly Wednesday afternoon in Nashville (Weber via conference call). It will be interesting to see how Weber frames his reaction to the Predators' decision to match, especially given some mixed messages that emanated from his camp in the days following Weber's signing of the offer sheet.
By signing the offer, Weber narrowed his career options to two: the Predators or the Flyers. The Predators would either match the offer and keep Weber in Nashville or decline and take four first-round draft picks from the Flyers.
Pretty cut and dry, and one had to assume Weber would have been comfortable with either option. Otherwise, why sign the sheet?
The suggestion from one of his agents, Jarrett Bousquet of Calgary-based Titan Sports Management Inc., was that Weber was much more inclined to play in Philadelphia. There was discussion about Weber wanting to play with a team steeped in history.
In the absence of actual words from Weber, twice nominated for the Norris Trophy as the game's top defenseman, there was the not-so-subtle implication that the Predators shouldn't match the offer because Weber preferred to play in Philadelphia.
Presumably Weber will make his position clear on that matter Wednesday.
If he truly wanted to ensure an exit from Nashville, he could have signed a one-year deal and waited to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. By doing that, he might have missed out on the monster payday he ended up getting given the NHL's determination to eliminate these kinds of front-loaded, long-term deals in the current round of collective bargaining with the players.
As the days passed waiting for the Predators' decision and without hearing from Weber on the matter, there was a feeling that perhaps he was hoping to have his contract and eat it too, that somehow the Predators would hear his agent's comments and let him depart with the Flyers' riches.
It didn't happen that way, and now the Predators have to hope that Weber wasn't trying to use them to get out of town with a big payoff.
As for any ill-will between Weber and the club, Bousquet said he spoke to Weber on Tuesday. The defenseman said he is looking forward to getting back to work.
"He's a Predator now," Bousquet said. "He was happy about the ownership, that they made that commitment."
Here's hoping Weber is candid about his intentions Wednesday and that he doesn't make the Predators regret what amounts to the franchise's biggest decision ever.
Already there is much speculation about whether Weber will play out the length of this deal with the Predators. Who knows. Didn't everyone think Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were Flyers for life after signing long-term deals? Or Brian Campbell a Blackhawk forever?
Former Columbus captain Rick Nash became disenchanted with the perennial losing by the Blue Jackets even though he signed a long-term deal. Nash controlled that process, though, because he provided a limited number of teams to which he would agree to be traded.
Sources told ESPN.com, however, that Weber will not have that same control.
Although the Predators cannot entertain the idea of trading Weber for a year per the rules of the offer sheet, a source confirmed to ESPN.com Tuesday that nothing in the offer sheet or any addendum provides for any kind of no-trade or no-move clause.
Bousquet told ESPN.com Tuesday night that he and his client would be talking to the Predators about the possibility of adding a no-trade or no-move clause to the deal, although it's difficult to imagine the circumstances under which the Predators would want to add such a clause.
Could Weber ask for a trade a year from now? Sure, but if he does, here's hoping the Predators find a nice home for him on Long Island. If Weber is looking for an out after one year (or even two or three), that's going to say a lot more about him than it is about the Predators.
We spoke a week ago about this being a seminal moment in the team's history, a defining moment.
Who knows whether the Predators will ever win a Stanley Cup. Their chances are certainly better with Weber in the lineup. Their hopes of attracting other top players and retaining their own stable of talented youngsters go up exponentially with this decision.
Even if Poile had parlayed those first-round picks into a collection of young talent from the Flyers, it would have flown directly in the face of all the things Poile has been saying for several years about making the Predators a contender.
Tuesday was statement day for the Predators.
Now it's defining-moment time for Weber -- time for the captain to make good on the convictions shown by his team -- regardless of whether he truly wanted to be a Flyer.