After a whirlwind week, the dust has settled on the Shea Weber offer sheet sweepstakes, and the Nashville Predators have locked up their All-Star defenseman for 14 years at a hefty price tag of $110 million. Much will be made of the move made by the Philadelphia Flyers and the response by the Predators, but one thing is very clear:
Both general managers made the right moves for their clubs.
For all the surrounding discussion, like Philly.com’s Frank Seravalli’s notion that the Flyers tried to bully the Predators, or the questions of Nashville’s financial capabilities that have arisen on sites, including Yahoo!Sports, in the end, this boiled down to two clubs who greatly coveted Shea Weber’s talents.
Both clubs proved they were willing to do almost anything to sign him.
With no assurances that Chris Pronger will ever play again (SB Nation), the Flyers saw the need to add a physical, big-bodied leader on the blue line, and Weber was a natural choice.
Restricted free agents who sign their names to offer sheets rarely end up moving. The only player whose initial team did not match an offer is Dustin Penner, whom the Anaheim Ducks allowed to walk in 2007 after refusing to match the Edmonton Oilers’ offer sheet.
Because signing a restricted free agent is such a rarity, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren had to craft a very specific deal. Few people would argue that four first-round picks are worth Weber’s on-ice presence, so it wasn’t about making an offer Nashville couldn’t refuse.
Instead, Holmgren had to make an offer Nashville couldn’t match.
Utilizing the deep pockets of owner Ed Snider and Philly’s big-market setting, Holmgren got Weber to sign a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that would have paid Weber $27 million in salary and bonuses over the first calendar year.
Nashville would be ineligible to trade Weber for a full year if they matched the offer sheet, which put them on the hook for a minimum of $27 million just to maintain ownership of their superstar. With Forbes reporting that Nashville is operating in the red, the financial commitment to Weber is completely astounding.
Simply put, Paul Holmgren did everything he could to make Nashville decide that their superstar simply was not worth the price tag. And furthermore, because Nashville cannot trade Weber for a full year, Holmgren ensured that Weber would not end up playing for an Eastern Conference rival via a trade deadline deal.
The offer sheet proved to be good defense and good offense, all at once.
Alas, the offense was not quite enough.
Nashville’s general manager, David Poile, was being pulled in two different directions.
The monetary commitment to Weber was enough to make the franchise seriously assess its financial capabilities and begged the question, “Can the Predators afford to build a winning team while paying one player so much money?”
While facing an intimidating financial situation, Poile was likewise facing the notion of losing his franchise’s biggest star in team history. Allowing Weber to walk only weeks after losing Ryan Suter would send a message about the franchise’s commitment to winning.
Choosing to rebuild—through Philadelphia’s four first-round picks—could have effectively killed hockey in Tennessee. After all, would you continue to support a team that wouldn’t do whatever it took to hold onto its best players?
After all, the offer sheet had given Nashville a light at the end of the tunnel. The team was poised to face the possibility of losing Weber to unrestricted free agency next season, when big-market teams with money to spend would crush Nashville in their own bidding war.
When Paul Holmgren narrowed the options to just two, Nashville and Philadelphia, Poile was just the stroke of a pen (and $110 million) away from locking up his franchise player.
Perhaps the offer sheet was a blessing in disguise for Nashville. The cash commitment is undoubtedly a risky move for the team. But the organization’s commitment to building a competitive team can no longer be questioned.
David Poile proved that he believes he can do more than simply keep Weber on his roster. He proved that he is committed to building a culture of hockey in Tennessee. He proved that he is willing to take the financial hit to build a franchise that works.
Kudos to Paul Holmgren for making the best offer he could, for trying to improve his team and especially for protecting the Flyers from seeing Weber join a rival franchise.
And kudos to David Poile for making his franchise-defining decision, not as a white-collar executive crunching numbers in an office, but as a passionate hockey fan cheering on the Predators from the stands.
Even Flyers fans must salute that purity that makes our sport great.