Shea Weber is the Predators? cornerstone defenseman, one of several key ingredients that Nashville will rely on to make a deep postseason run. sanford myers / The Tennessean
In what Chairman Tom Cigarran called the most important hockey transaction in franchise history, the Nashville Predators matched a mammoth offer sheet for All-Star defenseman Shea Weber on Tuesday.
The 14-year, $110 million deal instantly became the second-richest in NHL history, behind the $124 million contract for Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin, and it means Weber is under contract to the Predators through the 2025-26 season.
Weber will earn $27 million in the next calendar year alone, thanks primarily to a pair of $13 million contract bonuses that will be paid to him by July 1, 2013. He'll get $52 million in contract bonuses over the next four years.
But more than padding Weber's wallet and making sure one of the league's best players stays in Nashville, the Predators believe the decision to match Philadelphia's offer sheet - as opposed to receiving four compensatory first-round draft picks - makes a statement about the team's commitment to winning.
The Predators this summer lost another star defenseman, Ryan Suter, who chose to sign a 13-year, $98 million contract with Minnesota instead of returning to Nashville.
"We did not take or make this decision lightly, and we recognized the many ramifications it would have," Cigarran said in an email to season ticket holders. "Retaining Shea sends a powerful message to our own players and potential players that Nashville is a team that is in the hunt to win and this is a desirable place to play! Other teams will now know the Predators will do everything possible to retain its own star players and cannot be viewed as a franchise that can be raided."
The Predators reserved formal comment for today's news conference, but the team said via email that its decision was based on three factors:
• Was Weber the individual to lead a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup every year, for the next 14 years?
• Would matching the offer sheet be in the best long-term interest of the team and organization?
• Would a decision not to match the offer sheet send a negative message to current Predators players and other NHL organizations, a message that Nashville would only go so far to protect its best players and be pushed around by teams with deep pockets?
Weber could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but eventually he'll face questions about his level of enthusiasm for returning to the Predators. After all, by signing the offer sheet with the Flyers, he clearly indicated he was ready to leave.
One of Weber's agents, Jarrett Bousquet, said he doesn't think it will be difficult for Weber to return.
"He's good. He's glad to be back," Bousquet said. "He's really happy that ownership made the commitment to him. When I spoke to him, he was going to meet with (Predators Coach Barry Trotz) and he's really looking forward to getting back to work."
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News said he thinks Weber will still push for a trade after this season. (He can't be traded before then, according to the new contract.)
Asked if Weber would be comfortable long term in Nashville, Bousquet said yes.
"He's been there for a long time now. He's definitely comfortable there," Bousquet said. "He sees that ownership has made this commitment to him and he's extremely happy about it."
Bousquet praised the organization for living up to General Manager David Poile's claim that it would match any team's offer for the 26-year-old Weber.
"They're a solid organization," Bousquet said. "They've got smart people running the franchise there. We're happy they did match and it definitely sends a message that they're a solid group and they're ready to move forward to go to the next level."
Over the past two seasons, Weber was team captain and posted 97 points (35 goals, 62 assists) in 160 games. The 6-foot-4, 232-pounder is a physical presence in his own zone, a player whose nasty streak makes life difficult for the opposition's top forwards.
"I'm really excited about the signing today," Predators forward Mike Fisher said. "Shea is our captain and leader and to have him signed long term is huge for us as a team. It's a great day for the players, fans and whole organization."
Fisher, like Cigarran, felt the decision to match made a statement for the franchise.
"This was very important as a team to be able to keep a player of Shea's caliber long term," Fisher said. "He's one of the best players in the league and this signing shows the growth of our team and commitment of our ownership. This is huge."