It now appears that with star defenseman Shea Weber under contract for just one season, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile will be under the gun to make good on Weber’s condition of improving the team’s scoring talent to convince the Preds Captain to remain in Nashville, long term. Will concern for losing Weber to unrestricted free agency after 2013 force the team to step out of its traditional, cost-conscious comfort zone? Should it? (Photo credits: Background [Bridgestone Arena]: Stephen Yeargin; Foreground [David Poile]: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America)
Saved By the Bell
So where was I? Oh yeah, preparing to scorch a little virtual earth. Anyway, here I am, putting the finishing touches on this angry AJ post, when suddenly across Twitter it’s announced that the smoke signals had been seen rising from the Sistine chimney; the arbitrator had ruled.
$7.5 million on a one year contract for Shea Weber; the 24 hours of our discontent was mercifully over.
So, of course now was not the time to go Tony Montana on anyone’s ass. I turned my attention to preparation for the press conference call, scheduled for 4:00pm. I stopped writing. I wanted to see if the conference call might prove to be an even more compelling subject.
Sure, I’d wasted three pages worth of manuscript, but it wasn’t like that hadn’t happened before.
It was then I realized that sometimes it really is better to be the tortoise than the hare.
Damage? What Damage?
The chief concern for all who know the history of salary arbitration is the health of the relationship. Every previous time the Nashville Predators have gone through the process the player in question has come away with hurt feelings and an irreparably damaged relationship with management. It’s the nature of the beast. When your expressed purpose is to berate a player’s value in order to win an salary award, chances are slim that anything but damage can occur.
I was eager for the conference call, particularly so when it was learned that both David Poile and Weber would be making statements and answering questions from the press.
As it turned out, other than an understandable reticence to reveal a detailed account of the sticking points, the two parties seemed remarkably amiable and resolute in their optimism that the award was but a milepost on the journey and not the finish line.
While not getting into specifics of dollar amounts or length of term in the negotiation, Poile did reveal the three primary sticking points of the negotiation: salary, term, and structure.
In other words, they couldn’t agree on anything, hence the astronomical figure of $8.5 million submitted to the arbitrator by Weber’s camp, versus the Predators’ figure of $4.75 million, which amounts to less than a standard qualifying offer (5.55% versus 10%).
However, it should be noted, regarding that apparent slap-in the-face final arbitration figure put forth by the Preds, Poile confirmed it was NOT a figure used at any other point in the negotiation by Nashville, as was surmised by those familiar with the process here on the outside. Nonetheless, when it was determined that a long-term deal would not be met, each side went as far toward their best interests as they could, trusting that the award would end up somewhere in-between, which it was, with the $7.5 million award amount leaning considerably toward Weber’s side of the aisle.
Poile, to his credit seemed perfectly fine with the outcome, saying he believed the award was fair. Additionally, upon being asked about its face-value implication, Weber vocalized his recognition that the low figure was not intended to be an insult. “We understand that it’s a business,” he assured reporters. I find no reason to doubt that he was telling the truth.
So What’s the Verdict, Really?
This morning, in PredsNation and beyond, the mood is yet unsettled. Not many are truly happy in Nashville, despite the apparent lack of damage inflicted by a potentially devastating scenario.
Personally? I think we dodged a bullet. Who won? Weber, of course. The Preds didn’t win, but the best part is, they didn’t lose either. Shea Weber will be back next year, and he DOES wish to stay. Perhaps the most important aspect of this entire affair is that we now know, perhaps for the first time, just who Shea Weber really is.
It was truly an eye-opener for me; making me forget being angry at the Captain and causing me to respect him even more.
The Preds have reached a fork in the road, and so has the ownership group. Growth is hard. Growth is painful. Shea is taking his leadership to the next level. He is forcing the organization to make some hard decisions, but decisions that are vital if they are serious about winning a Stanley Cup. If they fail to do what it will take to make this team better in the short term; if they hem and haw and insist on allowing the cheap home grown talent to be the exclusive remedy to their scoring woes; if they say one thing and do another, I have no doubt that Weber will indeed move on at his first opportunity.
I firmly believe that this entire circumstance was as much Shea’s attempt to get management to wake up as it was to get paid. Here’s the deal, folks. Shea’s got big things he wants to accomplish and if he can’t do them with the Preds, he’ll do ‘em with someone else — it’s as simple as that. I cannot tell you how much that frightens me, and how much it should frighten David Poile, Barry Trotz and ownership group Chairman, Tom Cigarran.
If the owners want to see the Stanley Cup paraded down Broadway, they need to learn from their 25 year-old wunderkind. They need to take a stand. This isn’t some money-grubbing, disloyal miscreant on skates. This is a man who knows what he wants and is tired of settling for just being competitive.
Shea Weber loves Nashville, but he is not a puppet. Shea Weber loves Nashville, but he’s not a yes man. Shea Weber is THE man, and buddy, he knows it. Weber has earned the right to call the shots, inasmuch as they are truly his to call.
The $7.5 million smackers coming next year? His call.
The sticking point of term and structure Poile mentioned, likely involving a massively front-loaded contract a’la Ilya Kovalchuk and recently overpaid fellow defenseman Christian Ehrhoff? Probably not his call.
But the biggest, fattest, elephant-in the-roomiest statement during the conference call, much more than lightly stressed by Weber , Poile and the press during the Q&A session, was the demand for management to add scoring talent to surround the team’s core players — giving Shea the real fighting chance he wants to win a Stanley Cup.
And yeah, that’s now his call too.
Rink of Dreams
The award itself was not the real victory for Weber. It was his now-earned ability to administer a little tough love to his employers.
Yes, they will now have to pay him what he’s worth — because he IS worth it. But even if a long-term deal is negotiated and signed this January; even if Weber’s agents realize that asking for a front-loaded contract is a rather unreasonable proposition for this ownership group at this time; one thing Weber has made clear with his now-notably passive-aggressive display of clout: he will no longer grant the Preds a hometown discount in the area of surrounding he and his Big 3 mates with legitimate scoring talent. It must be done or he will not remain in Music City.
And no one, but no one, in their heart-of-hearts can find blame in that proposition.
In the Predators’ Field of Dreams, Shea Weber is now the voice in David Poile’s head.
“Go the distance…”
“Make him proud…”
“If you build it, he will stay.”
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