Last week’s arbitration ruling that awarded Shea Weber the highest single-season salary in franchise history did more than assure he would play at least another 82 games for the Nashville Predators. It also allowed him to play the waiting game.
Many assumed that the team captain would agree to a long-term deal with the franchise that drafted and developed him, and that his deal would serve as the cornerstone for upcoming negotiations with his defense partner, Ryan Suter, and goalie Pekka Rinne. With Weber locked in, where else would the other two want to be?
Instead, Weber took advantage of the system and got himself a landmark deal, one that will pay him $7.5 million this season. He also took the pressure off himself and threw it squarely onto his two teammates, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents following the 2011-12 campaign.
Now, he gets to wait and see what they do. If they bolt for greener pastures, then Weber can do so a year later with a clear conscience, knowing he wasn’t the guy who broke up the band. If they stay and the team continues to make deeper playoff runs, then he’ll be more confident in agreeing to a long-term pact.
“That’s what makes this one-year deal interesting, is that we’re all going to be up again after one year,” Weber said hours after the contract award. “The only difference is those two are unrestricted.
“Obviously we’re going to be talking with one another, because all three of us are pretty close. I’ll be interested to see what everyone is looking to do, especially those two. If they’re going to sign a long-term deal or if they’re going to do short-term, I don’t know.”
As the glow of one of the most successful and notable seasons in franchise history fades, what remains are questions about whether or not the small-market franchise really can make a run at a Stanley Cup championship, as many key personnel currently insist.
The truth is, no one knows if that really is true — including Weber.
Maybe pushing the likes of Chicago and Vancouver to six games on their way to the Cup finals is as good as it gets for Nashville. Then again, maybe there is more. Either way, it’s a decision Weber need not make at this moment. Rinne and Suter must wrap their minds around it before he does.
Predators’ fans came to terms long ago with the fact that their team cannot bring in big-name players anytime it wants. Instead it has to pick its spots, as it has done with the likes of Peter Forsberg and Mike Fisher.
Now, for the first time, the Predators are faced with the issue of retaining players of a certain renown.
It’s no secret in NHL circles that Weber is as competitive as they come. He has been a part of championship caliber teams for much of his life and has had an Olympic gold medal draped around his neck.
There’s no reason to think he would be willing to spend the best years of his NHL career — those years seem to be at hand, by the way — playing for a team for which it’s an accomplishment just to get to the playoffs.
With the deal done, Weber now has the ability to purchase just about anything his heart desires. However he spends all that money, he won’t end up with anything nearly as precious as the time he already bought himself.