It looks like these two will end up as the highest-paid members of the NHL's 2011 Restricted Free Agency class.
Whether or not the Nashville Predators actually end up going through with the arbitration hearing with Shea Weber on Tuesday, the two sides are scheduled to file written briefs with the arbitrator (and exchange them with each other) 48 hours in advance, which outline their positions. It's then that the cards are really put on the table, and negotiations typically get resolved before the hearing actually takes place.
|2010 - Shea Weber||82||16||32||48||7||56||6||1||3||254||6.3|
So while we still expect that a settlement will be reached, these written briefs will play a key role in making that happen, since each side will finally see the figure they plan on asking for.
So how might the Preds approach this situation? Follow after the jump as I take a stab at it...
The Basic Stats
There is little question that by any of the official statistics kept by the NHL, Weber ranks among the upper tier of defensemen in the league. We're sticking with the basic numbers here because official stats are mentioned as an admissible form of evidence, and the word I've received is that as far as stats analysis goes, that's about as deep as it gets in arbitration (attention agents and general managers - you have a boatload of money to make by hiring advanced stats analysts and leveraging them in this area). All rankings here and in the tables below are among NHL defensemen for that season:
|2010-11||16 (4th)||32 (20th)||48 (10th)||56||+7||25:19 (8th)|
|2009-10||16 (3rd)||27||43 (17th)||36||0||23:10|
|2008-09||23 (2nd)||30 (27th)||53 (8th)||80||+1||23:58 (29th)|
It is worth noting that while the offensive totals are impressive, the conventional measures which help reflect defensive performance (Plus/Minus in part) are more in the midrange. During each of these three seasons, for example, Weber hasn't ranked in the Top 30 in Blocked Shots.
So let's turn to the issue of comparables, those players whose contracts might be used as measuring sticks in arbitration. Per the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the only contracts to be considered are those which were signed by players when they were eligible for Group 2 Restricted Free Agency, just as Weber is now. So comparisons to Zdeno Chara, Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski, etc. do not apply.
#2 / Defenseman / Chicago Blackhawks
Jul 16, 1983
Contract: 13 years, $72 million ($5.5 million average)
When Keith signed his contract extension in December 2009, he was off to a hot start, with 5 goals and 18 assists in the Blackhawks' first 26 games, and a +9 rating. That followed up two very strong full seasons just prior to that:
|2008-9||8||36 (17th)||44 (20th)||60||+33 (1st)||25:34 (8th)|
|2007-8||12 (14th)||20||32||56||+30 (2nd)||25:33 (10th)|
While Weber holds a slight edge in offensive performance in this comparison, Keith's Plus/Minus results (even on a non-playoff 2007-8 Blackhawks team) were at or very close to the top of the league.
#7 / Defenseman / Chicago Blackhawks
Apr 20, 1985
Contract: 5 years, $29 million ($5.8 million average)
Seabrook is a player whose offensive game has developed over time. Weber would be considered a step above here, based on his Norris Trophy nomination and superior long-term offensive performance, particularly on a goal-starved team like the Predators.
|2010-11||9||39 (11th)||48 (10th)||56||0||24:23 (18th)|
#3 / Defenseman / Toronto Maple Leafs
Apr 10, 1985
Contract: 6 years, $39 million ($6.5 million average)
Back when he signed his deal midway through the 2008 season, Phaneuf enjoyed much the same reputation that Weber does today; he was consistently a top-5 goal scorer among defenseman and a heavy hitter who played major minutes for his club. It could be argued that Phaneuf's assists, Plus/Minus and ice time results were marginally superior, however.
|2007-08||17 (3rd)||43 (6th)||60 (5th)||182||+12 (24th)||26:25 (5th)|
|2006-07||17 (5th)||33 (19th)||50 (16th)||98||+10||25:39 (12th)|
|2005-06||20 (2nd)||29||49 (14th)||93||+5||21:43|
Some may wonder why we're looking at a contract from over three years ago here, but one thing to remember is that the comparable player list can go back to any time under the current CBA (with exception for arbitration awards from 2005-6), and that "the financial condition of the Club or the League" is not something the arbitrator is supposed to consider (Section 12.9 g iii of the CBA). In other words, it doesn't matter that the salary cap for 2011-12 will be 28% higher than it was back in 2007-8. The implications of that rule are pretty significant here.
#91 / Center / Tampa Bay Lightning
Feb 07, 1990
Contract: 5 years, $37.5 million ($7.5 million average)
While not a defenseman, Stamkos' contract is presented here as what a young star who has won a major league award (the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in 2009-10 with 51 goals scored, followed up with 45 in 2010-11) has earned. It could be argued that Weber should remain one step below that.
A Fair Number the Preds Could Propose
When balancing out this list of comparables, I could see the Predators coming in at a figure of $6.5 million annually. While there are some aspects of Phaneuf's performance that were superior to Weber's during the years leading up to his current contract, Weber does benefit from additional factors such as his being named team captain last summer, and his growing star power around the league due to his performance at the 2010 Olympics and at the World Championships.
On the other hand, the fact remains that while he has been among the top defensemen in a number of areas, he has yet to take the top spot, which argues for keeping him below what Stamkos just received.
What Shea Weber's agent might file with the arbitrator
Just kidding! I'll tackle their side of the question in a subsequent post.