Shea Weber was supposed to put the Predators on the map. But when negotiations for a long-term deal broke down last week, it seemed apparent Shea Weber wants to put Shea Weber on the map. Now the Predators should change course, explore trading Weber, with the intention to name Ryan Suter captain.
Once, the idea of the Predators losing Shea Weber, my favorite player, was abhorrent. Over the past few years, though, I acquiesced to the idea that he might seek a payday elsewhere. I've even long been of the unspoken opinion that the likely trade return for Weber would probably outweigh his future on-ice value.
When it became apparent that Weber and the Predators were in fact headed to last week's arbitration hearing, however, I realized how emotionally invested I still was in a deal getting done. And only when I caught myself reading reactions from outside Nashville did I realize why.
With the repeated assurances of our General Manager and Captain that a deal would get done, we fans staked a good bit of our collective credibility as a hockey market on Shea Weber signing. We haughtily dismissed every bogus lowball HFBoards trade proposal. When Weber became the 5th captain in 13 years, it was we, the fans, who lectured the rest of the league on how the revolving door of captains was closed. We drew a distinction between Atlanta's transparent attempt to keep Ilya Kovalchuk with their captaincy and Weber's situation--a distinction that may have never really been there.
The almost universally accepted idea around the NHL that internal budget restrictions prevent David Poile from making the Predators a Cup winner seems ludicrous to me. There's a salary cap in this sport. Last year, the Predators sat at 80% of the highest-spending team's payroll. Meanwhile, that same year, in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays narrowly beat out the Yankees in the AL East, while spending a third as much on player contracts. And no one was surprised.
What accounts for this difference between the two sports? Are players in hockey just more easily valued, more obviously good or bad, making the ability to find bargains harder? Maybe. Are the differences in the respective Collective Bargaining
Perhaps though, hockey is where baseball was 20 years ago, with too many teams looking at players the exact same way. The secret that makes the Rays competitive, and made Michael Lewis' Moneyball a best seller, is that what makes a player more attractive to a team doesn't necessarily make him better.
Shea Weber truly embodies what a franchise looks for in a defenseman. He's tough, competitive, physical. He has a booming shot and loves to throw big hits. He's a natural born leader and says "all the right things." But Ryan Suter is better. And maybe if the Predators want to start winning Stanley Cups on an internal budget, they need to start paying for talent and not Don Cherry's fantasy of the perfect hard-working Canadian kid.
Don't misunderstand--Shea Weber is a great player. But a highest-paid-defenseman, $7.5 million-cap-hit player? Let some big market team scrape the cap ceiling, paying that little extra for Weber's stoicism, Olympic heroics, and beard-growing abilities. Nashville can pay less for more in Suter and spend the difference on filling holes. Let some other team trade young, cost-controlled offense for the privilege of signing Shea to an above-market rate contract.
The only answer to the above question--on how to silence doubters--is of course to just do it, to win it. No amount of internet-comment-section handwringing about Nashville's legitimacy as a hockey market will mean a damn thing, if a giant Shea Weber contract hamstrings the team to the point of never actually winning anything.
Maybe my wanting to sign Shea Weber at any cost and see the Predators reach the next level was just wanting to have my cake and eating it too. I wanted Shea Weber to sign with the Predators for the wrong reasons: because of how other people thought of him. But the Predators have never won by doing what people expected of them. Why start?