Under the cover of night is about the time one would expect an offer sheet deal to go down. No one likes to discuss offer sheets in the NHL. They're often seen as poaching players, tempting them away from their rightful teams. General managers tend to stay away from them because it "paints them in a bad light," despite the fact that it's a perfectly legal and fine thing to do according to the CBA and every other owner and general manager in the league.
Consider Shea Weber poached. The Philadelphia Flyers, again without the services of Chris Pronger for the foreseeable future, need a star defenseman. Shea Weber finished a year of a deal that paid him $7,500,000 -- the salary decided not by the Nashville Predators, but by an arbitrator. Weber is now a RFA, which gives the Preds first negotiating rights to him. Would they sign him to a long term deal? Would they trade him in fear of him walking away for nothing? Or -- and no one expected this -- would another team swoop in and offer up a deal too good to pass up?
The latter happened. The Flyers offered Weber a whopping fourteen year deal at $100 million. How could the Predators' captain turn that down? Loyalty's great until you have that many zeroes looking at you from a sheet of paper. The Predators have a week to match. If they don't, Philadelpha has to compensate them to the tune of four first-round draft picks. That, plus the $100 million price tag, seems a steep price to pay for a defenseman -- but it's Shea Weber. Weber's the most in-demand defenseman who was even halfway on the market. Once Ryan Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild, all eyes shifted to Weber, who seemed dumbfounded that his defensive partner was gone.
The Predators were a defensively solid team with Suter and Weber in place. What happens to their chances in the Central Division -- and what happens to Pekka Rinne's stellar numbers -- without the duo? With their departure, the lack of goaltending in Chicago, the aging and weakening of Detroit's defensive corps, and the Columbus Blue Jackets generally not being very good, well, could it be that the Central wouldn't be the best division in the Western Conference (and some say the NHL)? What a shift in dominance one guy leaving would make.
Nashville's fans are, I'm sure, praying that David Poille matches that offer. But in days where it's been shown GMs in other sports will let stars walk, there is no guarantee.
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I was surprised when I read this, mostly because, as you say, it's not often that teams use the offer sheet mechanic of the CBA to this effect. Given that Philadelphia is obviously eyeing long-term, high-end success here, those four first round picks would very likely be down at the bottom end of the first round every year, in return for an obvious, proven commodity at defense, which, the hockey minds tell us, generally takes longer to develop.
The question of whether or not the Predators match this is an interesting one. On the one hand, they already lost one half of that defensive pairing in Suter, and they were well known for a stingy defense. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that they think they need to hang onto Weber, even at this cost, just to keep things somewhat stable. On the other hand, they're definitely not a large market team, and getting tied into a 14 year deal, especially at the kind of dollars that are reportedly on the table, may simply be a deal breaker, regardless of how much they want to re-sign Weber. if I had to guess at the moment, I'd lean towards the Predators being unable to make the financial commitment and Weber heading to Philadelphia.
Now, what this does to the Central... Chicago, albeit with plenty of firepower, still hasn't shored up defensively. They're probably pretty even with where they were last season. Detroit, with the loss of Lidstrom, has a defensive hole of their own to fill, and they seem to keep missing out on the ways to do it. In their case, it's certainly not from a lack of money in ownership, so it surprises me that they've been beaten to the punch repeatedly this off-season. On the plus side, though, they can at least hope not to be nearly so injury-ravaged as they were last year. Columbus, nobody will expect anything out of until they get their house in order, which is likely going to start when they end up dealing Rick Nash for less than they're expecting to get, and get a group in place that can hit on the high draft picks they keep getting for being so bad. St. Louis still has a hole on the top pairing D, left side, that Carlo Colaiacovo filled last year - he's still available, and I suppose it's possible he comes back, but until something happens there, the Blues are at a small deficit compared to last year. Nashville already lost Suter - if they lose Weber, they're in even worse straits than they already were, and can probably be expected to slid down the standings in the Central next season.
The Central as a whole has obviously gotten a bit weaker - the Blackhawks and Blues have held more or less steady, and the Wings and Preds have brand new holes on their bluelines. And Columbus will almost certainly be the league doormat again. Still, if not vying for the class of the league, the Central should be well in contention for the class of the West.
NHL.com reports: "Nashville has a week to decide whether to match the offer. If they Predators opt not to do so, they will receive a package of four first-round draft picks from the Flyers unless the teams work out a trade."