Shea Weber, coveted defenseman (Courtesy: Philly.com)

By: Rob Cunningham

The Philadelphia Flyers wouldn’t pay UFA defenseman Matt Carle $5 million per season to stay in town.

They wouldn’t pay future hall-of-famer Jaromir Jagr the $4.5 million he got from the Dallas Stars.

They traded promising young forward James Van Riemsdyk to Toronto for another promising player in defenseman Luke Schenn, uniting him with his brother Brayden (I’ll still take these guys). According to Capgeek.com, JVR’s cap hit is $4.25 million over the next six seasons, while Schenn’s is $3.6 million over the next four. Again, less money for the Flyers to pay.

Yet, they clear all that money just to potentially pay one man a whopping $110 million over 14 years. Why?

That man is RFA defenseman Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, arguably the best in the game, and there are numerous reasons why.

The obvious is that the Flyers need blueline help. The team’s defensive weaknesses were exposed and ripped apart in their second round playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils. Also, with the likely end of Chris Pronger‘s career due to concussion symptoms, Philly now lacks a true shutdown defenseman. They have Kimmo Timonen, a five-time All-Star, but he is more of the type to force players into turnovers, not pummel them into submission. Another note is that Timonen’s contract expires after this coming season, and at the age of 38 next summer who knows how much hockey Timonen will still want to play. Therefore, who better than the best?

No team in the NHL would not want Weber. That includes Atlantic Division rivals Pittsburgh and New Jersey. Both teams were in on the hunt for free agent defenseman (and Weber’s former partner) Ryan Suter, and both lost out to the Minnesota Wild. Weber is scheduled to be a UFA next year, where he can negotiate with any team he chooses. The Flyers did not want to take the risk of losing Weber to a rival team, so they gave him an offer and he accepted. Now Weber will play for either the Preds or Flyers for essentially the rest of his career. He cannot be traded for a full year after signing a new deal.

The Predators have until Wednesday to match the Flyers’ offer and keep Weber in Nashville. The obvious hockey decision is to match immediately, especially after the Preds lost Suter for nothing. The cap space is there. However, the business decision might be to let him go. Nashville is a small-market, small-budget team. Although the team has a strong, passionate fan base, it doesn’t bring in the big bucks like traditional markets such as Boston, Detroit, and the Canadian teams do. Recently, the club signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a 7-year extension worth $49 million. If the team matches the offer sheet, it would have to pay $159 million to TWO players. Is the ownership willing to pay that much?

Nashville GM David Poile recently stated that the team would match any offer made to Weber. Bad move, Dave. Poile has now put himself in a corner. As mentioned, Nashville might not be able to match financially, but then Poile has to go back on his word. Cue the upset fan base over losing their captain. Also, what does that say about the organization where they can’t seem to keep top players from leaving? It certainly discourages players from coming to play in the Music City. Unlike the Suter departure, the Preds wouldn’t be left with nothing should they not match. The club would receive four first-round draft picks from the Flyers. However, that’s exactly what they are: draft picks, not proven players for a team that was a few wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup last season.

Philly and Nashville have always had a good relationship. GMs Paul Holmgren and Poile were behind the trades of Timonen and Scott Hartnell to the Flyers and Peter Forsberg to Nashville. Therefore, there is a possibility for a “back-door” trade to bail Poile out. In 1997, the Flyers submitted an offer sheet to forward Chris Gratton of the Tampa Bay Lightning for five years, $16.5 million. In exchange for the Lightning not matching, Philly gave Tampa Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis for the four first-round picks that the Lightning received. It’s possible that a similar deal could happen here. The Flyers would need to dump some salary in order to fit Weber in under the cap. Nashville could send some of the first-round picks back to Philly in exchange for forwards such as Matt Read and Jakub Voracek (Preds need scoring depth), a defenseman which would probably be Andrej Meszaros (Flyers would have a logjam on defense), and a prospect or two. That way, the Preds would get proven players to keep the team a contender and Poile would not be run out of town.

The Flyers probably realized that they are in a win-win situation here, and that’s why they decided to pull the trigger on an offer sheet. If Nashville matches, the Flyers still have a solid blueline without Weber after the addition of Luke Schenn and won’t have to pay so much money. Their starting six, barring injury, would be Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, Meszaros, and one of Erik GustafssonBruno GervaisMark-Andre Bourdon, and Andreas Lilja. Also, it would insure that Weber is not a free agent next summer and won’t go to a rival team. If Nashville doesn’t match, then the Flyers get arguably the best defenseman in the game today. Now all Philly has to do is sit back and wait.

The puck is in Nashville’s end.

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Comments
  1. […] it’s all about keeping up with the competition. Division rival Philadelphia is in position to acquire possibly the best defenseman in the NHL. Therefore, the Rangers looked to make a big splash in the name of one-upsmanship. This was hinted […]

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