On July 19, 2012, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators was a restricted free agent. The Philadelphia Flyers were trying to work a trade angle for him, but not getting any traction, despite having the threat of an offer sheet hanging over the Predators.
There was also the clock ticking down to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, and how that might affect the term and dollars on Weber’s big contract — a contract that the Flyers couldn’t negotiate with him on before acquiring his rights.
Weber signed it.
And everyone freaked out, five years ago today.
The contract was for 14 years with a value of $110 million. At the time, and at age 26, it made Shea Weber the second-highest paid player in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin, who by 2012 had won the Hart Trophy twice. Weber still hasn’t won a Norris.
The Predators had the decision to match the contract or accept four first-round picks from the Flyers, losing Weber in the process.
Nashville was coming off a 102-point season and a second-round playoff exit, but their holy trinity of star players was fracturing. Defenseman Ryan Suter signed a 13-year contract with the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent, leaving behind his defensive partner Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne.
GM David Poile was mega-pissed. Suter told the team he was re-signing back in November 2011. Nashville made a competitive offer to retain him. Suter said it wasn’t about the money, but rather about family, as his wife was a Minnesota native. “The disappointing part is that’s not what we talked about all year long. I think we met Ryan’s desires on every front so today is very, very disappointing,” said Poile.
But since that ship sailed, Poile shifted his target to re-upped Weber, his restricted free-agent captain restricted. “He’s the player we want to build our team around. We want him to be in Nashville for years to come,” said Poile.
One problem: Keeping Suter would have made retaining Weber much easier.
Weber expected the Predators would match any offer sheet he signed. But he also didn’t feel comfortable committing to the team long-term without Suter there. (That was according to Bob McKenzie at the time.)
So Weber’s camp sent out feelers, looking for teams that had the desire to trade for him and the ability to offer sheet him, for leverage. The field included teams like the New York Rangers, who were hot for Weber, and the Vancouver Canucks, whose general manager Mike Gillis said that he wasn’t confident that Weber’s contract wouldn’t be matched.
Why not offer sheet him anyway, like the Flyers? Said Gillis to the Globe & Mail:
“Well.” He paused, took a breath. “I guess that’s one school of thought. To me I’d rather be trying to accomplish things rather than, ‘Okay, throw something up in the air and hope that it sticks.’ “We threw around trade possibilities. We threw around every possible scenario. I spoke to him [Weber] about every possible scenario, and his agent. At the end of the day, I guess Philadelphia was prepared to take that chance.”
They were, and Weber signed an offer sheet that was specifically designed to torpedo any match from the Predators.
The contract paid him $1 million in base salary with a $13 million signing bonus over the first four years; $4 million in salary with an $8 million bonus in years five and six; $6 million in years 7-10; $3 million in year 11; and $1 million in each of the final three years.
(RIP, deep back-sliding contracts.)
If the Predators matched, they would have been on the hook for $27 million for Weber, with $26 million of it guaranteed through a lockout.
“To put that in perspective, 16.5 percent of Nashville’s entire franchise net worth ($163M as valuated by Forbes Magazine in 2011) would be paid out in less than a calendar year by the small-market team.”
Barry Petchesky of Deadspin called it “a CBA-Beating Masterpiece.”
The notion that the Predators would match this was, at the time, a long-shot. Nashville fans were left hoping that the threat that they might, or the Flyers’ cap considerations going forward, would net the Predators something more palpable than the four first-round picks. But the Flyers basically had all the leverage on a potential trade.
So the Predators were basically screwed, and the hockey world was Photoshopping Weber into Flyers jerseys.
And then David Poile matched the damn offer sheet.
On July 24, one day before the deadline to match, the Predators announced that Weber’s rights were retained. From the team:
As the organization analyzed the overall situation and worked toward a conclusion, the decision boiled down to three questions:
– Was Shea Weber the individual that this franchise wanted to lead our team, a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup every year, for the next 14 years?
– Would matching the offer sheet be in the best long-term interest of the team and organization?
– Would a decision not to match the offer sheet send a negative message to current Predators players and other NHL organizations, a message that the Predators would only go so far to protect its best players and be pushed around by teams with “deep pockets?”
The answer to each of the above questions is clearly “yes.” The organization spent the last several days analyzing all aspects of the offer sheet, from economic implications to the impact on the team hockey operations puts on the ice.
So after five years, what can we glean from this historic moment?
The Shea Weber offer sheet will go down as one of the great “WHAT IF?!” moments in NHL history, along with course-changers like the Eric Lindros trade. (The Flyers, apparently, being the League’s biggest fans of “Choose Your Own Adventure.”)
Let’s start off with the obvious: The Predators felt, at the time, that losing Weber would have been a debilitating blow to the franchise.
Losing Suter and Weber in the span of a month would have been humbling; fans, by and large, supported the Predators matching the offer sheet. From Marc Torrence from On The Forecheck:
Is this the most important deal in franchise history? On the surface it would seem so. The Predators have finally taken out the checkbook and signed its best player to a long-term deal that will keep him in Nashville for seemingly the rest of his caerer. Rejoice, Preds fans. The captain isn’t going anywhere.
Let’s continue with the further obvious: There is no P.K. Subban in Nashville if there isn’t a Shea Weber going back to Montreal in that deal. Then again, the Flyers were sniffing around Subban as well over the years – could they have made the Weber-for-Subban trade instead?
As for the aftermath of the deals, there’s obviously no way to tell where the Flyers might have finished with Weber. But for giggles, they selected No. 11, No. 17, No. 7 and No. 18 overall in the next four drafts.
What about life without Weber on the blue line? Said Holmgren after the offer sheet was matched:
“We are perfectly happy with our defense right now. To try and add a guy like Shea Weber, doesn’t really speak to anything other than maybe you are adding one of the best guys in the league.”
That defense featured a recently acquired Luke Schenn, who never became what the Flyers thought they were getting for JVR. It would later include another debacle from Holmgren: The Andrew MacDonald trade, followed by the Andrew MacDonald signing.
Less than a month later, Holmgren was “promoted” to team president and Ron Hextall was hired to sort this all out.
Since 2012, the Flyers have had more coaches (three) than playoff appearances (two). Since 2012, the Predators missed the playoffs in two straight seasons and then made them in three straight, losing in the Stanley Cup Final last season with former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, fired the season after the Weber offer sheet was matched. Another domino that fell.
As for Weber, he might have seemed like a cold, calculated scoundrel at the time. Here was the team captain, chasing the money and trying to work a deal that got him out of playing in the only city he’d ever played in.
It didn’t help matters that his agent Jarrett Bousquet said Weber didn’t want to go through a “rebuilding” process in Nashville and “he’d like to play with the Philadelphia Flyers.”
Weber did damage control after the offer sheet match:
“I love the city of Nashville,” Weber said. “I love my teammates. I love the fans. It’s a very positive thing that the ownership has stepped up and they’re going to be a team that’s going to spend to the cap and brings guys in.
“The team stepped up and showed that they’re going to bend with the best of teams, and now we can focus on the season, and hopefully get some more pieces of the puzzle and build a contending team for a long time.”
It appears they will be, but not with Shea Weber. Because for all of the incredible maneuvering, massaging and masterminding of that offer sheet contract, the single most important aspect of it, in hindsight?
That there was no trade protection for Shea Weber.
And thus, despite the $110-million commitment five years ago, there’s no Shea Weber in Nashville today.
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