Last month when the Predators were in Toronto playing the Leafs, the intermission commentators felt sure that Shea Weber would be gone from the Predators at the trade deadline or certainly by the July 1 free agency date.
To most Predator fans the idea was so totally preposterous that it was dismissed without a second thought. Predators GM David Poile has consistently said that it was a deal that would get done and that there would be a new contract at some point. However, there is a possibility that it could happen and something the team could face in upcoming months.
Weber is a restricted free agent so the Predators would be able to match any offers that are made should a deal not get done before free agency begins. If it was an astronomical figure, the Predators would not mortgage their future for one player, not even their captain.
Last year’s free agent class for defensemen was headed by Duncan Keith, who has far more offensive upside than Weber. He signed a 13-year deal with the Blackhawks that is worth $8 million this year. Keith is probably not a good comparable. However, Zdeno Chara ($7.5 million), Dion Phaneuf ($7 million), Kimmo Timonen ($7 million), and Jay Bouwmeester ($6.6 million) are are all in a range that Weber could expect on the open market.
Weber is making $4.5 million this season and is ready for a contract where he can cash in and secure his future. So what if Weber doesn’t give a home town discount and take something in the range of seven years for $45 million starting with $6 million in real dollars in 2011-12?
The reality is that it would not be the end of the world for the Predators. The team is blessed with two number one defensemen and Ryan Suter has improved every year. This year, he has risen to a new level when he has been healthy and has become a true leader on the ice. As far as actual defensive ability, Suter is Weber’s equal, if not even better at this point.
The Predators also have to look to the future and find places for Ryan Ellis (camp or mid-season next year), Roman Josi (camp next year), and Charles-Oliver Roussel (2012-13). Another pair that may be in the mix in the next few years could be Jon Blum, who may be a late bloomer, and Mattias Ekholm who is playing in Europe.
I personally think that Weber is pleased with the Predators and was honored when he was named the captain. Because of that, I can see him re-signing at some point in the range mentioned above which the Preds could afford with a new higher cap floor and improved attendance. However, if the mood changed and Weber was lured elsewhere, like playing in Canada for top dollars, the Preds would survive without him. The Predators will do everything in their power to make Shea a Predator for years to come but they will not match an unreasonable figure if it comes down to that.
Weber’s contractual status is currently like the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. If nothing is done by February, when the trade deadline looms large, there will be an increasing amount of discussion and possibly some action to match.
We will all have to wait and see what happens.