Predators fans knew the 2012 offseason would be an interesting one. July 1 approached and defenseman Ryan Suter had not been locked up to a deal with Nashville leading to his unrestricted free agency. The rest is history. Suter teamed up with fellow American Olympian Zach Parise and walked into the Wild. The decision to leave the Preds left the fan base and front office confused and in turmoil. Suter attempted to persuade Parise to sign with Nashville but the fellow Devils captain passed according to Andy Strickland of truehockey.com. The defenseman's departure was met with sadness from Pred nation but the fanbase took heart in the fact that all-star defenseman Shea Weber was still in the fold.
Weber, a restricted free agent, was apparently more affected than most fans.
His agent, Kevin Epp, said that "things changed" when Ryan Suter left Nashville. Weber's other agent, Jarret Bousquet added that his client didn't want to go through another "rebuilding preocess." What? It's almost like Shea Weber forgot he was Batman, and Ryan Suter was Robin not vice versa. For whatever reason, Weber's outlook for the future of the Nashville Predators turned as cold and bitter as a Minnesota winter night. That outlook materialized in Weber signing the Philadelphia Flyer's 14 year, $110 million offer sheet in the dead of the night on Wednesday. The news that was initially reported by Darren Dreger of TSN kept Predators fans up with more questions than answers. Was this this a way for Weber to get the contract he wanted with Nashville or did our captain intend to leave the franchise which drafted him for Philadelphia? Nashville got answers to those questions on Thursday-- not the answers they wanted.
Weber's agents, Epp and Jarret Bousquet, provided the answer--yes. The Canadian Olympian fully intended to don the orange and black in the upcoming season and seasons to come. Epp told Philadelphia media that his client considered Philadelphia a "destination place," and the Flyer's history and chances of winning a Stanley Cup played a factor into his signing Philadelphia's offer sheet. The fact that Weber's camp cites Philadelphia being a destination as a reason for signing is alarming for the Nashville Predators franchise. As Sam Page of On the Forecheck pointed out months ago, players see Nashville as a nice place to live rather than a stage for their talents to be best exhibited. Apparently, Weber has been searching for a new place to exhibit his talents since the start of the free agency period on July 1. He and his agents reportedly visited New York (Rangers), Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver and Philadelphia to tour the city and hear pitches from the NHL teams in those respective cities. Remember: this was before Ryan Suter left Nashville. So what does Predators General Manager David Poile do now? He can no longer trade Weber this offseason and he now has until 11:30p central time Wednesday to match the Flyers front loaded offer. Poile has a few options.
First, he could simply let Shea Weber go. Nashville would receive four first round picks in the NHL Draft from Philadelphia as compensation. Four first round picks sound good, but with the uncertainty of most draftees ability to simply make it to the NHL, four firsts-- and likely late firsts-- would not be near enough for perhaps the best defenseman in the league.
Poile could also let Weber go and negotiate with Philadelphia to include players as compensation rather than just draft picks. Nashville might be able to acquire a quality prospect, but would still not receive as much in return for Weber as they would in a trade seeing as Nashville would have little leverage in this situation. This plan is, however, better than simply letting the all-star defenseman go for picks.
Then there is the option of matching the offer and keeping Weber for years to come. This seems to be the ideal situation, but you do not want someone in the locker room who does not want to be there long-term. Weber would be okay with being in Nashville, but it has become clear that it is not his ideal situation. If Poile decides to match and keep Weber long-term, he would need to prove to Weber that the team still has a chance to win the Stanley Cup or Weber would likely demand a trade. The problem is that with all the uncertainty surrounding the team right now, it would be difficult to lure top free agents to Music City.
The final option is to match Philadelphia's offer and trade Weber at a later date. Nashville could not trade him immediately but would have to wait a year to trade away Weber. The issue with this plan is Philadelphia's offer would have Weber collect $27 million in the first year of his contract. That is a lot to pay a player whom you plan on trading after one season. I still think this is the best option for Poile. If Poile does not match then Nashville loses a Norris finalist for only four first round picks. After losing Suter for nothing, that is not okay. Ticket sales would plummit and so would all Nashville has built up as far as fan entusiasm over the last few years. Sure, it will be the elephant in the room, but Weber would say all the right things to convince everyone he is committed to the Preds.
The return for a Shea Weber trade would be monumental. I would prefer the return to be prospect heavy. Top notch prospect heavy. Without Suter and Weber, let's be honest-- Nashville would not have much use for proven NHL players. It would be a rebuild. This word has a negative connatation to it in the sports world, but it is a neccessary evil. You have to be really bad to eventually be really good sometimes. Consistency is a good thing but in terms of results, Nashville has been stuck in mediocrity for too long. Finishing fourth in the Western Conference over the Detroit Red Wings is not mediocre, of course. However, it's the mindset of the franchise and the continual postseason failures that make Nashville a mediocre franchise.
This is a huge turning point in the franchise. Unfortunately for David Poile and company, there is really no great option. It's either continue in mediocrity or tank and rebuild. It won't be pretty, but tanking and rebuilding could just be the key to seeing the Stanley Cup paraded down lower Broadway.