On a conference call Wednesday with local and national media, Predators GM David Poile and defenseman Shea Weber said everything the fans would want to hear about the possibility of a long-term contract. However, there is pessimism around the league about Weber realistically staying put.
Unless Poile is blown away by a trade offer, I would expect to see Weber play out his contract this season with the Predators. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Weber will be making $7.5 million this season, the fifth-highest salary (and highest cap hit) for an NHL defenseman. With that in mind, Craig Custance of the Sporting News got a take from an NHL executive, saying a trade is a growing possibility:
Nashville and Weber still have two years before he reaches unrestricted free agency to work out a long-term deal. So there’s still plenty of time to talk.
But one NHL team executive told Sporting News that it’s time Poile seriously considers trading his franchise defenseman.
“You’ve got no choice now,” he told Sporting News. “The relationship is probably already damaged.”
It’s uncommon for a small-market team like Nashville to be paying a top dollar figure like this to one player. $6 million had been the previous high for salary paid by the Predators in one season to one player, which was to Martin Erat, who has a manageable $4.5 million cap hit.
The Examiner’s Jim Diamond believes the fact that the Preds elected for arbitration this summer could play into Weber’s favor, financially, in 2012:
Nashville is unable to elect to take him to arbitration again, but after Wednesday’s result, why would they want to? Weber, on the other hand, can elect to take the Predators to arbitration. Weber won’t get worse next season, so another arbitration award should give the Sicamous, B.C. native another bump in pay.
While we are not sure if there is a Fraternal Order of Arbitrators, one would think that there is no chance that they would think one of their own erred in giving Weber the biggest arbitration award in league history, so all signs point to a higher award next year.
But as Poile stated during the conference call, Weber’s biggest desire isn’t money. It’s about winning. If the team fails to build on their second-round appearance in 2011, Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski feels, like the majority of people, that Weber will be a goner:
What’s clear is that Poile and the Predators know what Weber’s after.
Money? Sure. He and his agents didn’t call the Preds on their arbitration filing for pocket change. It's $7.5 million next season, it’ll be more than that the following season, and it’ll be at least that for the first few years of any long-term deal.
But the most important desire is the desire to play for a championship. Weber expressed it. Poile heard it. If he's going to be a Predator in 2013-14, Nashville's going to have to be in the Cup conversation.
Big picture, the question is whether Poile and the Preds can lock up the ‘big three’ of Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne. With Weber’s 2011-12 salary setting the bar high for Suter’s next deal, the likelihood of all three staying long-term seems to be decreasing.
Amanda DiPaolo of Inside Smashville believes Weber’s future with the Predators may be determined by what Suter and Rinne do:
Poile says the focus to date has been on Weber’s situation and now looks forward to sitting down with Suter and Rinne, with the plan of keeping Nashville’s core together.
Whether the three stars are willing to stay long term in Nashville remains to be seen, but one thing is clear. Weber wants to win. His chances to do so in Nashville decrease if Suter and Rinne are not locked up long term.
It’s Poile’s move but now Suter and Rinne hold all the cards.
One thing that doesn’t seem to be getting mentioned is how all of this will affect the Preds’ locker room. It’s a tight-knit group of guys that, for the most part, have come through the system together. Will the fact that the ‘big three’, including the captain, is entering their contract years all at once become a distraction? Will it be an elephant-in-the-room type feeling if none of the three get any sort of extension before October?
That could potentially be the most challenging part of it all. If this situation becomes a distraction, will it have a domino effect on and off the ice, resulting in a setback from what the team accomplished this past spring? And if that happens, will that make Weber, Suter and Rinne believe this team can’t be an annual Cup contender?
In reality, there are way more questions than there are answers. But they are questions that won’t be answered anytime soon, which will keep Smashville on pins and needles in the mean time.
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