The Nashville Predators are coming up on an incredibly important crossroads in their franchises history, one that could make or break the fans trust in the team, and thus their rooting interests.
The Predators are fortunate to currently possess two of the top defensemen in the league in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. They are also fortunate to have a top end goaltender in Pekka Rinne.
The Predators fortunes may however be slowly slipping away as Ryan Suter is a UFA, and Shea Weber is an RFA. Negotiations to lock both players up long term have not been fruitful to this point as each player has reservations about how serious Nashville is as a Cup contender moving forward.
Shea Weber was an RFA last summer and despite the Predators obvious strong attempts at locking him up long term at market value, Weber declined to sign on for that long. This caused the Predators to take the unique approach of electing for team initiated arbitration. In doing so the Predators had to accept whatever offer the arbitrator came up with. They could not walk away from the deal, nor could Weber decline it. Weber was awarded a record 7.5 million dollar 1 year contract. Team elected arbitration is a one time only opportunity for the Predators, they will not be able to initiate arbitration this upcoming offseason.
Shea Weber can elect to take the team to arbitration this upcoming offseason, a situation that I think is likely to play out.
The reason that Weber has not elected to sign long term has nothing to do with his unwillingness to play in the city of Nashville, it has to do with his reservations about how serious the franchise is about building a legit Cup contender. I do not believe he wants to ink a long term deal and be potentially trapped without a chance to make a run at a championship.
Weber could also get an excellent offer sheet from another team, but the Predators can and almost certainly would match that offer, thus leaving him in Nashville for the long term anyways. If Weber opts for arbitration the longest contract the arbitrator can offer him is 2 years, or could potentially be another one year deal. This gives Weber the long term flexibility that he would probably like moving forward, as he would be a UFA at the end of any new deal. This could work for both sides. It can buy David Poile more time to prove to Weber that Nashville is and should be Weber’s long term home. It also keeps options open for Weber as well.
Ryan Suter, the other half of the equation is in a completely different scenario. He is a UFA at the end of the year and can go wherever his heart desires, and there will be plenty of options available to him. Detroit and Philly come to mind as they will be looking to replace Lidstrom and potentially Pronger. Extremely similar to Weber, Suter has reservations about the Predators as legit Cup contenders. Unfortunately for Nashville they do not have the options on the table with Suter that they do with Weber.
Further complicating the issue is that Suter recently has come out and said he will not resign before the February 27th trade deadline. This puts Poile in an incredibly tough position. Does he risk losing Suter for nothing? Does he trade Suter away in what should net a great return? I think there is a real risk that Suter will indeed walk away and leave the Predators with no assets to show for him.
David Poile has some awfully tough decisions to make, and these are decisions that can make or break the Nashville franchise. Nashville has been a good southern market for the NHL as the interest in the franchise has been built up from scratch into a solid fan base. Losing both star defensemen though could send a negative ripple affect through the fan base which they may or may not recover from. Poile recently has tried to reassure fans and players that the culture is going to change as it pertains to being a serious Cup contender.
Poile told ESPN that "I know we're one of the lowest payrolls this year, but going forward that will no longer be the case."
The first step in proving the Preds are serious about spending was Poile electing to take the team arbitration with Weber in which he was awarded 7.5 million, he had to know the price was going to be high when they elected to go that route. They also recently resigned Pekka Rinne to a 7 year 49 million dollar mega-deal. Both examples show the Predators willingness to spend some coin now, but money is not the central issue at hand with the two big defensemen.
Further emphasizing how important the handling of Weber and Suter will have moving forward is the Rinne contract. Nobody will debate Rinne’s current success; however what affect would a potential Weber and Suter departure do to the goalie? Paying out 7M/yr in the current cap landscape for a goalie is a risky move. Ryan Miller was all world as recently as 2010, however him and his 6.25M cap hit do not look all that attractive right now and a lot has to do with the support around him. The days where a goalie can single handedly take a team far is in the rear view mirror.
Poile is coming up on a trade deadline with the utmost importance. He needs to make some moves that show he is committed to making the team better to ease the minds of Weber and Suter. The Predators need some offensive punch to their game and if Poile could somehow acquire a big name for his offense, that would go a long way in getting both Weber and Suter to stay long term in Music City. He needs to do whatever it takes right now to prove that the Predators will be winners in the long term. Perhaps even extreme measures such as reaching out to somebody like Alex Radulov and giving him legit money. Poile has to explore any avenue possible at this point.
If Poile is able to keep Weber around on another arbitration deal (player initiated) but lose Suter, he needs to make a huge splash with an offensive player in the worst way. Otherwise, he risks losing them both.
The health of this franchise could very well be in the balance with how the next 7-8 months are handled.
This much is sure, nobody is envious of David Poile right now.