Like many of you, I received something of a rude awakening, yesterday morning. Good or bad, checking the previous night’s happenings in the Twitterverse has become a fixture of my morning routine. Typically, there’s nothing of any real substance to pay attention to–after all, as many a mother is fond of saying, “nothing good happens after 2 AM.” Being Joe Nine-to-Five, that old adage has been adapted to “nothing SHOULD happen after 11 PM.” So, like most mornings, I popped open my Twitter app on my phone, expecting the usual minutia. What greeted me instead was a shock, indeed: “Philadelphia Flyers sign Shea Weber to 14 year Offer Sheet.” What came next was a surge of varied emotions. I’m not certain why “stunned” was the first one to boil to the top, since Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia Flyers are no strangers to this sort of bold move, and they have openly coveted Shea Weber for some time. It’s just that, despite the legality, offer sheets typically don’t happen. Every summer, some shiny, glamorous RFA takes his time coming to terms with his team, and fans clamor for an offer sheet. We saw it last summer with Stamkos and Doughty, and so it was no surprise that the possibilities of some team going this route with prized defenseman Shea Weber were the object of much speculation. After getting past the initial shock, the next emotion in my progression was a sort of elation: after all, this wasn’t the one-year-bridge-to-UFA offer sheet I had feared. This was a deal that the Predators could easily match, essentially assuaging all of our fears. With Poile’s boastful assurances that “any offer sheet will be matched,” the Flyers had done the work for us, and engendered the means to make Shea Weber a lifetime Predator.
For most of the morning, that was the prevailing attitude composing the collective tweeting of Predators fans. Even as Nick Kypreos leaked a deal structure that was formidable, and would certainly cause Nashville ownership a fair bit of indigestion to cough up, no one was deterred. National media asserted their doubts that traditionally cash-poor Nashville would have difficulty matching such a heavily front-loaded deal, but knowing the fiery “we don’t take no guff” personality of key players such as Tom Cigarran and Herb Fritch, Predators fans were confident they would find a way. We strapped in, and prepared for a nailbiting period of waiting for the inevitable announcement from GMDP that the offersheet had been matched.
Then, agents Kevin Epp and Jarrett Bousquet started giving interviews.
Suddenly, the entire idea that our confidence was built on– “above all, Shea Weber wants to stay, but wants to get paid” — went out the window. Instead, when asked directly “Do you hope that Nashville doesn’t match? Does Shea Weber want to play for the Flyers?”, Weber’s agents more or less affirmed both questions. Darren Dreger’s announcement that upon hearing of the pending OS, Poile and Holmgren spent Wednesday trying to work out a trade seemed to lend itself to that idea. If Weber, through his agent, had told Poile that he no longer wanted to play here, it could have set off GMDP’s desperation to get a trade done and return immediate assets, rather than the woefully inadequate return of 4 bottom-10 first round picks. The alternative would be to match the offer sheet, retain a potentially disgruntled player for the mandatory year before he became tradeable, and–oh–pay 28 million dollars for the privilege of a lame duck defenseman. The upside would be that without a NTC or NMC in the deal, you could open the trade market to 29 other teams, and the return would likely be astronomical. But no trade is going to return a Shea Weber. This wasn’t really a favorable course of action. Once again, it looks like the Predators franchise is in a bit of a no-win situation. You can walk away from the offer sheet, take the 4 picks in compensation, and hope to parlay at least some of them into players that can contribute immediately–or you can match and retain the best defenseman in the league. Both outcomes are attached to a pretty negative caveat. If you walk away and take the picks, there’s very little chance that you’re going to bring another top 5 player in the league in return, and you once-showpiece defense–already weakened by 50 percent in recent weaks–takes another devastating gutpunch. Additionally, you send a very bad message to a fragile fanbas. If you match the offer, you run the risk of bringing back a player that doesn’t want to be on the team.
So, what to do?
That question will be difficult to answer for David Poile and crew, but also hard to fathom for the fans. The inevitable fingerpointing has already begun. Some will BLAME POILE\OWNERSHIP for not putting together a good enough team, not spending enough money, not cultivating an environment that the players believe in. Certainly, there have been signs that this may be the case. Suter’s “demands” for more activity were likely the impetus behind Poile’s unusually busy trade deadline. Steve Sullivan recently told “NHL Home Ice,” when asked about Suter’s decision to depart for Minnesota, “I don’t know that there’s necessarily a lot of belief that they can win in Nashville.” Ownership pledged to make resources available to make Nashville a “cap team” over the last season, but was it too little, too late? Certainly, losing Suter caught Poile blindsided, but was there not a viable backup plan in place? Weber’s comments, proxied through his agent, that he “didn’t want to go through another rebuild” certainly hints that Poile’s replacement for Suter was looking to be a not-yet-ready Roman Josi. And remember that this team had high hopes last spring, but ultimately wasn’t good enough. Status quo– keeping Suter, Weber, Radulov, Kostitsyn–wasn’t going to be enough, unless you were hoping the stars aligned differently. This was a team that needed even more, likely another true top six forward– but instead, lost three of those four components, and added only a backup goaltender. Why should Weber have been confident that the result would be better, with the only improvement to the team being “young players getting a year older?” Now, the market was in a situation that there was a dearth of top six forwards, but it’s not something that should have necessitated a quick fix. This is the result of years of the same issues plaguing the team, and only band-aid fixes being applied. True that Poile made a run at Parise, but with the thrifty reputation the Predators have generated for themselves, the appeal simply wasn’t there. Would that have been different if the Predators had been bigger players for some of the “name” forwards that were available in free agency over the past years? Hossa? Kovalchuk? Richards? I’m not saying that it was feasible to land a player of that magnitude, just trying to rationalize why the sudden “we’re going to spend!” declarations are likely being met with skepticism–especially when there’s still quite a bit of spending required to even get to the salary floor, let alone the promised “cap.”
So, there’s ammunition for the “BLAME POILE\MANAGEMENT” crowd. If we could simply stop there, if we could assign only villain to this story, life would be much easier. However, as is always the case in the rollercoaster life of a Nashville Predators fan, there’s always more to consider.
With the yeoman work that David Poile has done thus far, the sad “well, we tried” defeats in landing not only Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, but Phil Kessel a couple of seasons back, it’s easy to see him as the good guy here. He’s done more with less than any GM in the league, and certainly deserves credit for that. In the face of hopeless adversity, he always pulls strings together in a magical way, creating the most unlikely tapestry of relative success in the NHL. So we’re encouraged and excited to see what he could do, given the resources to compete with bigger markets in the free agent pool. With names like Getzlaf and Perry poised to hit free agency next summer, he should be well positioned, if he can get through the next season. So that leads us to the BLAME WEBER crowd, and their associated philosophy.
No slap leaves quite the mark like a beloved fan-favorite indicating his preference is to play elsewhere. This is a player that carries the responsibility and honor of the “captain” title. After all we’ve been through, all of the disappointments, all of the close-calls–it finally seemed that things were beginning to turn for the Predators. For the first time, Nashville went into the postseason as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. While it didn’t work out, the future should be bright. The Predators still have one of the best goaltenders in the league. There are a number of promising players both in the system and ready to play now. Most of all, Poile has been assured that the money will be available to land “big fish” players, should they become available. But none of this is possible without Weber. If he would just stay, have a little bit more faith, there’s still time to right the ship after the loss of Suter. So, is it greed? Frustration with the lack of glory\recognition, playing in a small market like Nashville? How could someone that’s been the posterchild for the Preds, the face of the franchise, suddenly quit on them? Maybe Weber’s character–long thought to be one of his most prominent virtues–doesn’t feature loyalty as strongly as we thought?
And what else could Poile have done to appease Weber? He offered comparable money to Suter to what he eventually got from Minnesota. He attempted to sign Parise. He attempted to trade for Rick Nash and Jeff Carter. These efforts fell short for reasons beyond his control, but he was still able to land the top rental forward at the deadline, the top defensive center, and the top defenseman–and then re-sign two of them. He wooed the enigmatic-but-dynamic Alex Radulov back to Nashville–previously thought impossible. It’s impossible to argue that Poile has not made the effort. Yet it’s apparently not enough.
So, now that you’ve seen both sides– where do you stand? For me, there’s no blame to be assigned, or maybe it’s a matter of equal blame to be assigned. I write both sides of the debate based on my own logic, my own emotions. I genuinely feel those things, and I’m left with pieces of a puzzle that I can’t seem to put together. The end result looks to be unfavorable, no matter what.
Perhaps I’m wrong though. I don’t profess to know Shea Weber personally, but he has certainly always exuded an air of professionalism. If he’s the consummate pro that he appears, then he’ll return to the Predators and pick back up where he left off. While his agent’s comments are troubling, perhaps there was a disconnect or some misrepresentation. While Bousquet did a little bit of backpedaling when speaking to James Cybulski, stating that he “didn’t foresee a problem” if the Predators did the unthinkable and matched, I’ll quote my good friend and contemporary JR Lind: “It’s difficult to put toothpaste back in the tube.”
I don’t think there will be an issue with teammates or coaches, if Weber returns. These guys know it’s a business, and they typically understand this sort of thing. I just hope that a bridge that’s currently embroiled in flames doesn’t burn out completely, when it comes to Poile, Weber, and our tenuous fanbase.