There was some big talk, but the spectacle itself spoke volumes.
For the better part of the last year Nashville Predators owners and officials took every available opportunity to trumpet the franchise’s financial stability, primarily their willingness and ability to spend in order to retain or attract top talent.
Wednesday, though, it was clear just how daunting the decision was to match the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet captain Shea Weber signed a week earlier with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The public press conference, which attracted several hundred fans to the Bridgestone Arena plaza, was more a celebration than an opportunity to disseminate news and information. The euphoria that surrounded the proceedings was commensurate with a big victory and not standard business practices, as those in charge wanted the world to believe was the case when it came to locking up their best players.
“From a hockey perspective, the answer was always ‘Yes. Match,' ” Chief Executive Officer Jeff Cogen said. “The business decision was a little more complex. … We can’t wait to get started and prove to [the fans] we made the right decision.”
The bottom line is that Weber is a Nashville Predator for the coming season and likely for the rest of his career, provided the team does not trade him at some point. Current league rules tied to offer sheets such as the one Weber signed as a restricted free agent mandate that the Predators cannot trade him for at least a year. Not that they want to do so.
The team captain for the past two seasons, he is Nashville’s all-time leading goal scorer among defenseman, one of only two players in franchise history to appear in three NHL All-Star Games and a two-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy, given annually to the league’s best all-around defenseman.
The amount of money he is to be paid, particularly in bonuses (of the $80 million Weber gets through the first six years, $68 million is in the form of bonuses) does affect the franchise’s bottom line, though.
“Of course, I felt pressure,” Tom Cigarran, head of the ownership group, said. “… If we decided, as much as we wanted Shea Weber, that we couldn’t have an elite team, that we wouldn’t have enough money left, … that he was getting so much that we couldn’t possibly have an elite franchise we wouldn’t have done it. That would not have been in the best long-term interests of the team or the franchise.”
Focus on the Predators’ finances increased last summer when Weber, his defense partner Ryan Suter and goalie Pekka Rinne all were set to enter a contract year. Rinne and Suter were scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2012 and Weber was in position for a second straight year of restricted free agency with unrestricted free agency on tap for 2013.
Plans to sign all three to long-term deals and to build the franchise around them for years to come were met with skepticism. Rinne agreed to a seven-year, $49 million deal last November, which at the time was the largest in franchise history. Suter spurned the team’s attempts to lock him up long-term both during and after the season and signed a free agent deal with Minnesota earlier this month.
With the decision to match the offer sheet for Weber, therefore, the Predators ultimately held on to two of the three.
“It actually was a very interesting four or five days,” general manager David Poile said. “If anything, I think it probably brought our organization even more together than it was. The fact that everybody got involved in the decision, that [Cogen] and [Cigarran] canvassed the business side and everybody having their input.
“At the end of the day when we knew what we were going to do I think it really galvanized our whole organization.”
It also emboldened some of the highest-ranking members, who could not resist the temptation to thump their chest just little bit.
“Shea is our leader,” Cigarran said. “We did what it took to keep him a Predator. The Predators are not here just to survive, but to be an elite franchise that competes for the [Stanley] Cup every year.
“… Our players, players who are with other organizations around the league and those organizations can now see that the Nashville Predators will not be pushed around by teams from bigger markets.”