Shea Weber is staying put.
In the self-proclaimed “boldest move in franchise history” the Nashville Predators announced Tuesday afternoon that they have matched the Philadelphia Flyers’ 14-year, $110 million offer sheet to their captain.
“Since purchasing the team in 2007, our ownership group has stated their intentions of building a franchise that will compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out,” Sean Henry, the team’s chief operating officer said in a email sent to season ticket holders shortly after the announcement. “… So, it is with great excitement that I share with you a letter from our Chairman informing you of the boldest move in franchise history, that we have matched the offer sheet to Shea Weber.”
The team will hold a public press conference to discuss the decision 1 p.m. Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena.
Weber’s deal easily exceeds the one signed by goalie Pekka Rinne (seven years, $49 million) as the richest in franchise history and reportedly includes a bevy of bonuses that amount to $68 million over the first six years and a total of $27 million to be paid within the next calendar year.
The bonus structure was considered problematic for the Predators, a team that has greatly increased ticket sales and sponsorships in the last two years but has faced questions about its overall financial health. Tom Cigarran, head of the ownership group, repeatedly had said over the last year that the team was equipped to compete financially with any of the NHL’s other 29 franchises.
“There was no debate whatsoever regarding whether or not we wanted Shea,” Tom Cigarran, head of the Predators’ ownership group said in the email from Henry. “That was indisputable. … We did not take or make this decision lightly and we recognized the many ramifications it would have. Retaining Shea sends a powerful message to our own players and potential players that Nashville is a team that is in the hunt to win and this is a desirable place to play! Other teams will now know the Predators will do everything possible to retain its own star players and cannot be viewed as a franchise that can be raided.”
Weber, 26, was a restricted free agent for the second straight year. That meant that he had the option to sign an offer sheet with another franchise, but the Predators had seven days to match that offer or receiver draft picks as compensation. Last summer he rejected long-term offers from Nashville and ultimately earned a one-year, $7.5 million deal through arbitration requested by the club.
Had he played the coming season on another one-year deal he would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2013. Instead, he agreed to the Flyers’ offer sheet last Wednesday. At that point, his only options for 2012-13 and beyond were to play for the Predators or the Flyers.
"In tendering an offer sheet to Shea Weber, we were trying to add a top defenseman entering the prime of his career," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said in a statement released by the team. "With Nashville matching our offer, we wish Shea and the Predators all the best."
Weber was a second-round draft choice (49th overall) in 2003. Last year he finished second in Norris Trophy voting for the second straight season and joined Kimmo Timonen as the only players in franchise history to appear in the NHL All-Star Game three times. He also was a key player for Canada’s gold medal team at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
He is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals by a defenseman (99) and has been the Predators’ captain since the start of the 2010-11 season.
“With this decision behind us, we continue to focus on our mission: Develop Bridgestone Arena into the number one sports and entertainment facility in North America with a Stanley Cup-winning Nashville Predators team as the centerpiece,” Cigarran said in his letter. “With Shea Weber in the fold for the next 14 years, we will continue to contend for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis with a team anchored by one of the top goaltenders and top defensemen in the game.”