It's the best time of year!
So we know Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne will be staying in Music City for seven more seasons. But Predators GM David Poile still has work to do. If he can’t get both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter signed long-term (and this isn’t to say that he can’t or won’t), Poile may have to decide between one or the other. If it gets to that point, who should the Preds keep? Alexander and I debate…
By Alexander Monaghan
Shea Weber simply does it all, and the Nashville Predators know it.
Awarded the captaincy 16 months ago, the Preds chose Weber over Ryan Suter, or any other player, because of his elite skill set, rugged defending and overall leadership qualities. On the ice, he does it all as acknowledged by two All-Star appearances, an Olympic Gold Medal, a Norris Trophy nomination and gargantuan $7.5 million arbitration award. Off the ice, his mentoring and guidance helped the team win their first playoff round last season.
Through Friday’s action, Weber sits in the top 10 in ice time and shots on goal. Although he has yet to find his scoring touch in the season's early going, the Sicamous, B.C., native has produced on average 16 goals over his first five NHL seasons – which includes his six goals in an injury-marred 2007-08. In other words, when healthy, he's one of the game's top offensive defensemen.
However, not everything he brings to the table is offensive. He is even better defensively. He leads the team in hits, plus/minus, shifts per game and overall shifts. In tough minutes, coach Barry Trotz sends out Weber furthering the argument that he's the most important player on this team.
Among his teammates, only Francois Bouillon – who has played only four games this season – has faced a stronger Quality of Competition (QoC) according to Behindthenet.ca. His Corsi number – a number put on puck possession based on shot attempts – in relation to his QoC similarly puts him above all other Nashville defenders. In layman's terms, he faces every elite player the opposition can throw at the team and still pushes the puck out of the zone.
We've found Weber to be an irreplaceable member of the Preds using his accolades, counting stats and now advanced hockey stats. But does he pass the eye test?
Standing tall at 6’4”, the former Kelowna Rocket can play a heavily offensive role or shut down his opponent with blistering body checks and solid positioning. His slap shot is one of the hardest – if not the hardest – shot in the NHL, topping 104 mph. At both ends of the ice, he remains a force and a joy to watch for that matter.
Weber is the complete package, playing in his prime at age 26 and dominating at both ends of the ice. The Predators know these facts, as does the other 29 NHL clubs who hope he hits unrestricted free agency following the 2012-13 season. Locking him up should be a top priority as players of his stature are simply difficult to obtain.
By Ryan Porth
Up until the 2010 Winter Olympics, Ryan Suter was the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. Seemingly overshadowed by Shea Weber’s notoriety and easy-to-notice playing style, Suter has been a steady force on the Preds’ blue line for as long as Weber has.
Suter can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. At that time he’ll be 27 years old and may become the Ilya Kovalchuk of free agent defensemen. When was the last time that an elite defenseman hit the open market while entering his prime? In the salary cap era, never. Next summer, Suter could potentially earn Weber-type money ($7.5, maybe $8 million). Teams would be lining up on Suter’s doorstep on June 30th.
Poile should never let it get to that point, though. Suter is an extremely important player to the Preds. His combination of poise, skating/puck-moving ability, strong defensive play and ability to control the pace of a game is hard to find. When he missed 11 of the Preds’ first 19 games last year, the defense (including Weber) was lost and the team went 4-6-1 in that span. Also, Suter’s presence on the power play makes the unit better.
Another reason why the Preds should opt for Suter over Weber is their respective free agency status next summer. Weber will be a restricted free agent again in 2012, unrestricted in 2013. If Poile is able to sign Suter to a long-term deal similar to Rinne’s, and the team cannot keep Weber, they have time to get compensation for him in the form of a proven scorer, prospects or draft picks (or a mixture of all three). The only way the Preds could get reasonable compensation for Suter is if they trade him before this season’s trade deadline, which I personally don’t think would happen.
His point totals will never jump out at you and he may never win a Norris Trophy playing alongside Weber. But if Suter weren’t in Nashville, he could easily be the top defenseman on two-thirds of the teams around the league.
Even though it’d be easier to find a defenseman comparable to Suter’s skill-set than Weber’s, you can’t go wrong with either one. They are the best defensive duo in the league. But if Poile has to pick between one or other, he should get Suter’s signature on the dotted line.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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