Like two lonely dominoes, NHL free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise sat apart from the larger group of free agents when the signing period opened on July 1. As the days dragged on, the number of toppled dominoes in that larger group grew while Parise and Suter remained alone, standing as a towering pair over the other free agents.
Those two dominoes fell on Wednesday, hitting the table with a resounding thud as both players signed with the Minnesota Wild.
It had been speculated that the two players would sign similar deals and end up with the same team, with a great number of fans and pundits expecting those teams to be among the usual suspects when it came to big name free agents, the Flyers or the Red Wings. So when the finger that toppled the Suter and Parise dominoes was attached to the hand of Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, it came as a little bit of a surprise.
Now that the signings have taken place and Suter and Parise have set their families up for life, the teams that are out of the running will be left to frantically pursue the second tier free agents left on the market, undoubtedly driving up the asking price of these players.
Beside those teams, there is the Nashville Predators to think about.
The Predators gambled big by not trading Suter at the trade deadline, instead opting to go all in and pursue a Stanley Cup, knowing that failure in that pursuit would surely cost them Suter in free agency.
We all know that the Predators fell to the Coyotes in the playoffs and we all know that it has cost them Suter, but there is another player they need to consider and that player is their captain, Shea Weber.
On the open market, Weber would be worth more than the 13 years and $98 million that Suter reportedly signed for, but alas, he is not available on the open market. Instead, he is a restricted free agent that made $7.5 million last season. The Predators have a real dilemma on their hands with Weber.
The Predators will most likely look to offer Weber a qualifying offer this year of $7.5 million, something that Weber was aware would happen when he went to arbitration last year. That deal will lock him in for one year while the team attempts to negotiate a longer term deal with him, something that I would be surprised to see Weber take.
The Predators, while a fine franchise, are not a team that has the economic freedom to spend up to the cap. That fact, at least subconsciously, tells players that they don’t have a chance at the Cup, because let’s face it, money equals success in the minds of many. Without that type of financial freedom, Weber will have to wonder if he will ever lift the Cup if he stays in Nashville.
Another option would be for Predators to qualify Weber and work on a trade, landing the best possible deal they can. This may be their best option, but one that will see them dealing from a position of weakness.
Teams will know that they could possibly land Weber for free as an unrestricted free agent next season, so why give up top-notch prospects to land him? Even if he is traded, it is unlikely that Weber would sign an immediate extension with his new team as he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He knows the kind of money that awaits him.
A final option is the dreaded offer sheet. This one is dangerous for Weber, the Predators and the team offering the sheet.
If Weber signs an offer sheet and the Predators match that deal he is stuck with the terms of that offer and will stay with the Predators for the duration of the offer, something that may not appeal to him. The offer sheet is dangerous for the Predators because it will lock them in at a higher salary rate than what they may have liked to pay for what will surely be a long-term deal. For the team offering the deal, they will be giving up first round draft picks as compensation, something that is always a crapshoot.
The Predators and Weber have a lot to ponder in the coming days, but in the end I see this playing out rather simply.
Weber accepts the qualifying offer from the Predators and plays out the 2013 season for $7.5 million. Weber will then cash in when free agency begins next summer and you can bet that the teams that missed out on Suter this year will be in hot pursuit of Weber next year.