The Nashville Predators cleared out their lockers on Wednesday afternoon and said their goodbyes before heading their separate ways for the summer later this week. One of the main focuses of the season wrap-up was Shea Weber’s contract status for next year.
Weber, a Norris Trophy finalist this season, is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1. He reiterated (as he has all year) that he likes playing in Nashville and doesn’t plan on heading elsewhere anytime soon.
“I love it here,” said Weber, “The people in Nashville are awesome. Our fans are the best in the league and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”
The Predators captain made $4.5 million in the final year of his current deal; it’s believed by many that his market value is well north of $7 million. The playoff run this spring and front office stability should help Nashville be able to bring him back – whether it’s on a short- or long-term contract.
A prerequisite for Weber, a second round pick in 2003, is that he wants to play for a team that can win in the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. When asked if he feels he can do that here, Weber said, “Yeah, I think (we can). You see how close we were this year. You know, this series was a game or two away from being a different outcome.”
As far as a new contract goes, General Manager David Poile said on Wednesday that his goal is to wrap things up before July 1st.
“I’ve had many discussions with (Weber) and his agent over the year,” Poile remarked. “Over the next couple weeks we’re going to sit down and see what we can do with the future of Shea.”
Whatever happens in the negotiating process, look for Poile to tender Weber a contract before July 1st arrives (which usually results in arbitration). If not, once the free agency doors are open, teams would able to sign the Norris finalist to an offer sheet and possibly put Poile in a tough spot.
Weber’s presence is invaluable to the Predators. He has emerged as one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL, while becoming the face of the franchise off the ice. For much of the year, the 6’4” British Columbia native led the team in points. He finished the season with 16 goals and a career-high 32 assists. Weber also led the Preds in ice-time (25:19 average) and hits (211).
“He’s a big, big player for us,” said fellow awards finalist Pekka Rinne. “He’s such a great teammate, such a great player. He’s one of the backbones to this team and it’s an honor to play with him. Everybody obviously wants to see him back.”
When Rinne was asked if he’d try to do anything to persuade Weber to stay, he said, “Maybe a little bit. I might try to be a little extra nice to him!”
From the business side, there are a lot of moving parts to this situation. He is 26 and a year away from unrestricted free agency. Poile also has to consider the futures of Rinne and Ryan Suter, Weber’s defense partner, as both are free agents in 2012.
In all likelihood, a deal will get done. But will the Predators be able to afford to lock Weber up for big money long-term? All of this will be sorted out over the next few weeks.
“He’s a restricted free agent, so he’s not going anywhere for at least another year,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said of Weber. “I’m not that worried at all. This is his team. I think he was proud of his first year as captain, and I think he’d be very proud if he took us to the next level and was a part of it.”
All year there have been Canadian outlets inaccurately trying to lead people to believe that Nashville won’t be able to keep their biggest star in franchise history. Weber left zero doubt on Wednesday that he will be donning the blue and gold in 2011-12.
“It’s going to happen,” Weber said of re-signing. “It’s only a matter of time before something gets done.”
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