At long last, the wait is over. The dark cloud that lingered over the 2011 season has cleared. Shea Weber has a contract and will officially be a member of the Nashville Predators in 2012. We can all kick back and relax, eager for next season to begin, because our captain is signed and all is good with the world.
Sure, Weber "signed" a contract yesterday, but the last few days of #WeberWatch and the subsequent arbitration hearing have done more harm than good. What was once a perfect marriage between a budding superstar and a young franchise has now become a tense relationship between two parties who can't even agree on the time of day anymore.
So the obvious question for Predators fans now becomes "Where do we go from here"? The captain is locked down for a year, but his future, along with the futures of the other two Nashville superstars, remain very much up in the air. Let's take a look at the options David Poile has going forward:
1. Negotiate a long-term deal
This is obviously the most appealing option, but it's much easier said than done. From the Predators' side this makes perfect sense, but for Weber it may not be the best option.
Weber wants to win a Cup. Period. But he doesn't want to sign a contract and subsequently be stuck on a team who, if we're being realistic, hasn't shown that they can go from being a good team to a great team. I do believe, however, that Shea would love nothing more than to parade the Cup around the Batman Building in June, but so far he just hasn't been shown that the Predators can get him there. For this reason, it appears Weber would not be willing to sign a multi-year deal with the Predators - at this point in time.
2. Let it be and revisit the issue next offseason
If nothing else, Shea Weber is a Predator in 2012 and there's virtually nothing he can do to stop that. Poile can simpy let him play out the year and into restricted free agency, but it wouldn't be as risky as you think. While teams could still sign the captain to an offer sheet, it's unlikely that any actually would, given the amount of compensation the Predators would be owed (likely 4 first round draft picks).
The Predators would then be able to negotiate with Weber yet again, though it would probably only result in a one-year deal, given the reasons listed in option 1, sending Weber into unrestricted free agency in 2013 where he could walk away scott-free. Or, as Jim Diamond points out, Weber could elect to take the team to arbitration and possibly cash in on more than the $7.5 million he was awarded this year.
While there may be little consequences off the ice, simply waiting until next offseason could, however, prove to be disastrous on it. There's no doubt Weber was the heart and soul of the Predators in 2011 and was a major part of the team finally breaking through to the second round. But would players respond as well to essentially a "sitting duck" captain in 2012? One has to think that players wouldn't be as willing to put their bodies on the line and play their hearts out for a guy who may or may not want to be a Predator the following year.
3. Trade Shea Weber
Easily the most extreme of David Poile's options, it might just be the one that makes the most sense. Like Dirk suggested yesterday, Weber and Poile need to sit down and have a little heart-to-heart to really find out if Shea really wants to remain a Predator. And if he doesn't, then it makes no sense keeping him around.
There is absolutely no questioning the piece this team lacks, and Weber could be the key to getting it. But the price would have to be steep. In addition to an elite scoring forward, Nashville would also need to acquire a veteran defenseman to take Shea's place on the blueline. Would there be anyone willing to pony up that much for Weber's talents?
Looking at the big picture, it appears that Poile has two years to show the captain that the Predators can compete for a Stanley Cup. And that has to start with acquiring a top-6 forward, as both sides have reiterated multiple times. Right now, Shea's contract brings the Predators to about $48.7 million in salary, and assuming they'll be spending around $52 - $54 million, there will be plenty of room to add some scoring that will almost have to come from a trade.
The other variables in this equation are the contracts of Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter. Part of the organization's commitment to winning involves re-signing the team's other two superstars, and it's difficult to see Weber wanting to sign long term without those two, especially his partner on the blue line.
This offseason hasn't quite been the one that Predators fans were expecting after their historic 2011 season, and with the team going through arbitration with their captain, it only complicates matters more. The goal would be to make the all-world defenseman a Predator for life, but if the team doesn't show their committed to winning the Cup, or if Weber wants out of Nashville, his days as a Predator may already be numbered.