The Nashville Predators no longer have to wonder or worry about Ryan Suter’s future.
Now they can concern themselves with Shea Weber. And in light of Suter’s decision Wednesday to accept a 13-year, $98 million free agent offer from the Minnesota Wild, concerns over Weber’s long-term future with the franchise suddenly have increased.
“I know if Ryan had re-signed it would be a lot easier for Shea to make a commitment,” general manager David Poile said. “But I have to find that out now. I have already talked to Shea’s representative about a long-term contract.
“Everyone wanted to see what came down with the Suter situation.”
Weber currently is a restricted free agent who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency next July. The two-time Norris Trophy finalist has been the team’s captain for the past two seasons. His is the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer among defensemen and second only to Kimmo Timonen for points by a defenseman.
He rejected long-term offers from the team last offseason and played 2011-12 under an arbitrator-awarded one-year, $7.5 million deal.
“I’ve told Shea on numerous occasions that he’s the captain of our team and we want to build our team around him,” Poile said. “He’s been terrific with us in the captain’s role and as a player and we hope that he will re-sign with us.”
Weber and Suter have been linked since their earliest days as NHL players.
Nashville selected each within the top 50 picks of the 2003 NHL draft, when five of their first seven choices were used to select defensemen. They both broke into the NHL in 2005-06, Suter at the start of the season and Weber after some time in Montreal.
Between them they have played more than 1,000 NHL games, the majority of them as defense partners.
Weber, though, was the headliner. He was selected to the NHL All-Star Game three straight times (2009, 2011 and 2012) whereas Suter finally made his first All-Star Game appearance this past season. Weber also has finished as runner-up for the Norris Trophy each of the last two years. Suter barely cracked the top 10 in 2012.
“I think this is a real missed opportunity,” Poile said. “This could have gone down as the best defensive pair ever in the National Hockey League history. I think they were certainly heading that way.”
Now Suter has decided to go off on his own.
With Minnesota, he joins a team that is younger than Nashville by two years. It has been to the playoff just three times and has missed out on the postseason each of the past four seasons. The Wild did, however, advance to the Western Conference finals in 2002-03.
Obviously, the Predators were not what he wanted.
So now it is up to Nashville’s management to see exactly what Weber is looking for in the long-term and whether or not he envisions himself following Suter out of town eventually.
“Our focus turns to our captain Shea Weber,” Poile said. “He’s the player that we want to build our team around. He’s at the top of his game. He’s a two-time Norris Trophy finalist. He knows what we think of him and we want him to be in Nashville for years to come.
“I’ve talked to Shea as much this year as I have to Ryan about the future.”
He can only hope the final word in this case turns out to be different.