The Nashville Predators matched the Flyers’ offer sheet to restricted free agent Shea Weber, believed to be for 14 years and $110 million – with $27 million to be paid out in first 12 months, $26 million of which would be paid even in the event of a labor stoppage. Nashville cannot trade Weber for one calendar year under league rules.
Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren said “We were trying to add a top defenseman entering the prime of his career…we wish Shea and the Predators all the best.”
Expect the Flyers to follow up with unrestricted free agent Shane Doan, who visited Philadelphia and New York during the Weber wait.
Here’s the original story, detailing how the Flyers got to where they did and the factors Nashville GM had to weigh before deciding to keep Weber:
The Flyers confirmed Thursday morning that they have signed Nashville captain Shea Weber, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet. Under NHL rules, the Predators have 7 days to match the offer exactly as it’s structured, or the Flyers’ offer becomes a contract with Weber and the Predators get draft pick compensation from the Flyers.
Terms of the offer sheet have not been disclosed, though TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that it’s for 14 years and in excess of $100 million.
For his part, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren kept the announcement short and sweet:
“The Philadelphia Flyers have signed restricted free agent (D) Shea Weber to an offer sheet. There will be no further comment at this time.”
While Nashville GM David Poile had vowed to match any offer to Weber when that possibility was hypothetical, there are three major factors which will now go into his decision-making. First is the extent of the draft pick compensation, which depends on whether the average annual value (AAV) exceeds $8,410,976. If it does, the Flyers must give Nashville 4 first round picks if Nashville declines to match. If it does not (and presumably exceeds $6,728,781), the compensation would be two first round picks, one second round pick and one third round pick. But the wrinkle here is that to determine AAV under the current collective bargaining agreement, you don’t divide by 14 years, but rather by a maximum of 5. So in essence, once the offer exceeds the $42.6 million threshold, we’re in four first round picks territory – and a source close to the situation has confirmed to me that the compensation would indeed be four first round picks.
The second item which factors in Poile’s (who has been involved in deals with the Flyers first sending out Peter Forsberg and then a few months later acquiring the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell and and whose father, Bud, was the Flyers’ first GM) decision-making is whether the cash outlay in terms of the front-loaded nature – or “signing bonus” if you prefer those terms – makes the offer sheet a “poison pill” for Nashville, which has a decent and engaged fan base, but is far from a hockey hotbed.
My best guess is that the first 3-4 years of the deal pay out about half of the money ($50-60 million) and the other 10-11 years average around $4-5 million per year.
Back on July 6, PhillyPhanatics.com’s Eric Fisher wrote about the Flyers being quiet on the free agency front “…for now” and I theorized that a Weber attempt was a likely outcome in my comment to that piece, as well as on our July 8 radio show. Eric displayed concern that Nashville would match and also stop being a reliable trade partner. If Nashville does match, Eric’s concerns about upsetting both Poile and the league in general may turn out to be valid.
But the other side of the coin is that sports are competitive, both on the playing surface and in the teams’ front offices. Nobody would dispute that landing Weber would give the Flyers among the best few defensive corps in the NHL – and with the strength of their forward play, would make them one of a handful of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for next season. I could be hyperbolic and say that if the Flyers land Weber, the only thing stopping them from winning the Cup would be a labor stoppage – but I just can’t dwell on that looming problem right now.
Having Weber – who is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate and is only 26 years old – would give the Flyers a bridge beyond Kimmo Timonen, who will likely retire at the end of this season, and Chris Pronger, who may very well be on long-term injured reserve for 5 more seasons. Weber would join Luke Schenn as the only right-handed shots on the Flyers’ blueline, which would figure to alter the Flyers’ power play in a dramatically positive way. So as much as this is a move for 2012-13, it’s also a move for the future – and has to be such, because depending on whether the contract contains no-trade or no-movement clauses, Weber will be wedded to whichever team signs him for a long time.
The Flyers may be getting in just under the wire with this type of front-loaded deal, which in some ways circumvents the salary cap in that it allows the Flyers’ cash outlay for a given season to well exceed the cap (assuming the team can still operate profitably or can take the hit of being in the red for the short term), where other teams simply don’t have the resources to operate that way. Under the next NHL collective bargaining agreement, the owners are not only trying to reduce the overall percentage of revenue flowing to players, they are also trying to ban or at least severely restrict front-loaded deals. Some are theorizing that Weber – already unhappy at the departure of defense-mate Ryan Suter to Minnesota two weeks ago – also knew that the next CBA would disfavor the type of deal he just got, so he forced the issue and found a willing taker in the Flyers to push the contract into the stratosphere.
Whether Weber really wants out of Nashville, or simply wanted to squeeze as much money out of Nashville as possible, is a matter of speculation. Most people in NHL circles feel that Weber might be OK in Nashville for the short term, but the prospect of a 14-year commitment there likely turns him off. This is the third factor in Poile’s decision-making – whether Weber really wants to play for the Predators.
If Nashville does match, they cannot trade Weber for one full year – so their window to create leverage over the Flyers (or any other team) has passed. It has been rumored that Nashville was trying to work out a trade with the Flyers contingent on them being able to sign Weber, but that the Flyers and Weber grew tired of waiting, so the offer sheet was presented and signed Wednesday night.
In addition, it’s quite likely that the Flyers’ offer sheet has some sort of no-trade or no-movement clause, which may force Nashville to go much longer than a year without the ability to trade Weber if they later find they cannot manage the financial ramifications of the contract – though such clauses can be waived by the player, while the one-year trade restriction is absolute.
Nashville’s decision to match may leave them cash-strapped, and holding an unhappy and illiquid asset on a team whose near-term Cup aspirations took a big hit with Suter’s departure.
Again, my best guess is that there is a no-movement clause for the years that Weber is enjoying a huge salary, but that the Flyers take away the clause when Weber’s salary drops into the $5-6 million range, so that they could move the contract to a low-revenue team who would enjoy an $7+ million cap hit on a $5 million or so outlay. Figure Weber to be well past 30 years old by that time, and also figure that he may be every bit as valuable to the Flyers then as he would be next season.
As long as there is a next season.
Here’s hoping that a #6 orange jersey comes out of the tunnel on October 11 to a thunderous ovation, to be repeated on many nights at the Wells Fargo Center. And with apologies to Andreas Lilja…I wasn’t talking about you!
Shea Weber has one of the NHL’s best shots from the point…but this video proves he can score from anywhere