The Nashville Predators have matched Philadelphia's 14-year, $110 million offer for defenseman Shea Weber, as announced by Nashville's official team site. The move ensures that Weber will remain with Nashville for the next 14 seasons, barring any sort of trade.
It appeared that Philadelphia had all but priced Nashville out for Shea Weber but today's news signals that Nashville is willing to spend big money in order to keep their current captain locked up.
Realistically, how many of you saw this coming? Philadelphia's offer appeared to be a bit too rich for the Predators to be able to handle. As a matter a fact, it still might be. The Predators have excited their fans by announcing that they have matched Weber's offer but the truth is that the organization might struggle to actually afford the defenseman over the next few years. It was a move Nashville had to make to save face but it is one that they probably will have to make ammends for down the road.
In the meantime, Nashville will return two of their three most important pieces that had contracts expiring. Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne will return while Ryan Suter starts his new career with Minnesota.
Nashville states that the decision to match Weber's offer was one made by several pieces of the organization, including hockey & business operations as well as the ownership. They stated that the decision ultimately was decided by answering three questions:
1) Did they want Weber to lead their team and be the face of the franchise?
2) Would matching be in the long-term interest of Nashville?
3) If Nashville passed on matching the offer would it send a negative message to the other players on the roster? Would it appear as if they were being pushed around?
The organization answered "Yes" to each question, deciding to make the biggest decision we have seen from the franchise to date. The Predators believe that with Weber in the mix they will be a direct competitor for the Stanley Cup.
Still, it's hard to imagine Nashville will be able to afford Weber over the next several seasons. Philadelphia's deal was structured to pay Weber huge chunks of money in the first several years of his contract. In 2012-13, Weber will make a $14 million salary with a $13 million signing bonus. This payment plan will continue through the 2015-16 season. In 2016-17, Weber's contract shifts to a $12 million salary and a $8 million signing bonus. The contract will be the same for 2017-18. The signing bonuses conclude after the 2017-18. Given the huge numbers involved, Nashville may be forced to deal Weber at some point over the next few years barring a big uptick in revenue.
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While Nashville needed to do this, I'll admit that I was one of those who thought that Philadelphia had managed to structure the contract in such a way that they'd priced the Predators out of doing so. Plus, I still don't see how they manage this financially and still keep a competent team around their long-term investments beyond the upcoming season as new contracts are awarded. At least, not as things stand now.
Now, for some utterly unfounded, rampant speculation: Nashville's ownership was willing to do this because there is a working coalition of owners who are going to insist on gutting all of these long-term, cap-circumventing deals as part of the new CBA. For instance, if the rule suddenly becomes that the contract cannot vary beyond a set percentage of the annual average value, and current contracts are restructured accordingly, then they're just on the hook for roughly 8M a year. Alternatively, maybe the talked-about flat reduction in all salaries actually goes through and brings this down to a level that Nashville can actually afford to pay. I can certainly think of many more such scenarios, but the point is, with the new CBA yet to be determined, Nashville may well believe that they're going to have a way out from under this such that they can actually keep Weber for the term of the contract.