The Nashville Predators are trying to have a full changing of the guard in their team’s on-ice leadership. Step one was completed when Jason Arnott was traded away last off-season and Weber was given the vacant “C” (and Dumont’s “A” being given to Ryan Suter). Step two was completed this off-season when Dumont was bought out and the decision was made to not bring back Steve Sullivan.
Steps three, four, and five might prove to be trickiest yet for David Poile. Those steps would be the re-signing of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne- the identified core for the Nashville Predators.
First up on that list is Shea Weber. The date of the arbitration hearing on August 2nd is fast approaching and the last thing mentioned publicly was Weber’s agent stating “we seem to be coming to a bit of a stalemate” [Josh Cooper]. In-and-of-itself, that’s really not a reason to draw any conclusions as negotiations often turn public.
Of course, that’s not the only news fans have heard. At the beginning of this month, respected sportswriter Andy Strickland tweeted that “[Weber] is interested in signing a short term deal at this time.” Speculation centered around 2 years as that would exhaust the remaining restricted years for Weber leaving him a UFA at its conclusion.
Nashville fans have heard from the owners and from David Poile for the past couple of seasons that they know what it would take to keep both Weber and Suter and were willing to do it. They’ve gone so far as to say that both would be Predators for a long time. So what’s changed, or has anything changed?
According to respected USA Today columnist Kevin Allen [via Section303.com 303:30 podcast], he doesn’t feel that Weber is looking to be the highest paid defenseman in the league and would be reasonable in regards to his salary demands from Nashville. He also believes that Weber’s desire to stay in Nashville is genuine. That, combined with the Predators’ repeated statements of being willing to pay Weber’s desired salary, appears to make the speculated desire about having his next contract end as soon as unrestricted free agency becomes possible appear to be over something more than salary.
This morning, Poile is quoted as saying “Would I like to sign Shea to a longer-term contract vs. going to arbitration? Absolutely.” [Josh Cooper] This statement is completely confusing to me. If term is the issue, then why go through all the pain of an arbitration if you ultimately end up with a one or two year contract anyway? If money is the issue, then practically every report and/or speculation we’ve read to this point has been off the mark.
The only issue that makes real sense to me would be for Weber to seek flexibility in playing for an organization that truly can contend every year. If he’s not sold on the Predators ability to do just that (which ownership and management have repeatedly made bold statements to do), then a short term contract gives the Predators the opportunity to build while still ensuring Weber can move on if not.
The catch is that a short term contract likely hinders David Poile’s ability to ice a contending team each year. It likely does not help negotiations with Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne either. It’s certainly a public relations nightmare for the Predators given everything they’ve said to this point and the fact that it furthers the perception that Nashville can’t keep their homegrown superstar players.
Here’s the rub though. Shea Weber’s first duty is to himself and his family. He also has all the leverage- not only due to Nashville taking him to arbitration, but also because the ownership and management have made him the face of the franchise and have publicly dismissed any notion of Weber and Suter leaving anytime soon.
If you still want to blame Weber for this mess, consider the following:
You’re Shea Weber and you just completed a season where you finished 2nd in voting for the Norris trophy. Your goaltender finished 2nd and 4th for the Vezina and Hart trophies respectively. Your defensive partner turned in another fantastic season and the team as a whole was the 3rd best defensive team in the league. And while you advanced out the first round for the first time, you fell in the second round for the same reasons as the prior season- a poor power play and the lack of scoring from the forwards.
Your general manager is publicly pointing at a lot of potential from young and untested players as the primary means for improving the offense. And, if the opportunity to get another Mike Fisher presented itself, the team “will leap into action” (a player that, while sorely needed for an injury depleted team and the perfect Predator, scored a whopping 36pts last season) [Skate of the Union Address exclusively from Buddy Oakes @ PredsOnTheGlass].
As Shea Weber, do you look at that scenario, and knowing that now is the prime time of your career to lead a team to the Cup, think that you have to keep your options open? I don’t know if Shea has those thoughts, but I can’t blame him if he did and protecting himself if so.
If the Predators come out of this with anything less than a 3 year contract with Weber, they are in trouble. It would likely cause issues re-signing Suter and Rinne. It would certainly cause a huge public relations nightmare. Unfortunately, I think it would be mostly of their own doing and not Weber’s.
You are invited to follow me on Twitter (@SingletonPreds). For game recaps of all Predators games as well as great insights on the Predators and the NHL, check out my HockeyIndependent colleague, Mark Willoughby (@TheViewFrom111).
About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT gmail.com.