I've been there, Ryan. We've all been there.
OK, almost none of us have had eight- or nine-figure contract offers on the table, like you do now as you mull over your free-agent options on your Wisconsin farm. But you're going to be a rich man no matter what, you're supposed to be a simple, small-town guy at heart, and that means this isn't about money.
This is a life decision. We've all faced life decisions.
So take a deep breath. Take your time, but don't dawdle. Analyze, but don't overanalyze. Make the best decision you can based on the information you have today, and don't look back.
Easier said than done, I know. Like I said, I've been there. And I know David Poile's getting impatient, and people have got to be blitzing your phone – or at least trying to – even if they say they're just checking in.
"I've talked to him a bunch, not really about hockey," Shea Weber told me back at the NHL Awards in Vegas. "I think we just talk about what's going on on his farm. … He's out there riding the tractor all day, pretending that he's doing hard work, but he's just driving the tractor."
Good one, Webs.
[Related: Martin Brodeur signs on for two more seasons in New Jersey]
Anyway, no need to keep driving in circles. Let's look at your main options:
– Nashville: I know Poile's made this pitch to you. If all's equal financially – or close to it – why wouldn't you stay?
"Everything I know about Ryan, his personality, his comfort level, everything that we have to offer in Nashville both on and off the ice, that we still are the right place for him," Poile told a group of reporters in Vegas.
Poile's got a point.
You've got particular criteria, from the amount of media attention, to the commute to the rink, to the ability to win. You're never going to be in the fishbowl in Nashville, like you would in some other markets. Traffic isn't an issue. And the Predators, under new ownership, have done everything they can to show they are willing and able to do what it takes.
They re-signed Pekka Rinne. They acquired Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn. They rolled the dice on Alexander Radulov, and even though those dice came up snake eyes, at least they tried.
Then there's Webs.
"As I've said to Ryan many times, forget about negotiations for a second," Poile told us in Vegas. "You use that [word] 'priceless.' These guys playing together for the next seven to 10 years could go down as the best defense pairing ever in the National Hockey League. I have to believe that weighs into it a lot, too."
Now, Webs is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He probably wants a long-term deal now, with the league and union negotiating a new CBA. You have a better idea of what he's thinking than we do.
But if you come back, the Preds probably have a better chance of locking him up. Maybe you guys can keep playing in front of Peks, and knowing you're all going to stay, maybe the Preds can keep trying to add up front.
[Related: Alexander Radulov returns to KHL with rich four-year deal]
"For sure I want to see that day, see Ryan signed and same thing with Webs," Peks told me in Vegas.
And if you come back and Webs bolts, anyway … well, you've got to weigh how different that would be than playing without him elsewhere. Gotta think the Preds will try to build around you.
– Detroit: Nicklas Lidstrom just retired. Those are huge skates to fill, even for a defenseman as good as you. But nobody expects you to win seven Norris Trophies and be a Perfect Human, and this is a unique opportunity.
I'm sure Chris Chelios has made this pitch. He played at Wisconsin, like you did. He's buddies with your uncle. And there is a reason a guy like him – once the captain of a division rival, his hometown 'Hawks – fell in love with the Wings when he played for them and still works for the organization.
Yeah, the Wings' core is older. But the Wings have been called too old for more than a decade now, and they keep winning, and winning, and winning, and they have more young pieces than you might think. With committed ownership, a savvy front office and a sharp scouting staff, they have been able to rebuild on the fly without high draft picks. You could be the next piece that carries on that tradition.
Great player after great player has come through Detroit. We're talking Hall of Famers and superstars, too numerous to mention. The Wings have Original Six tradition. They call it Hockeytown, but hockey isn't the No. 1 sport. The arena and downtown are gritty, but the suburbs are beautiful. The Wings have won four Stanley Cups since 1997 and made 21 straight playoff appearances.
You can take Lidstrom's minutes. You can pass the puck to Datsyuk and Zetterberg. You can stay low key. You can have a chance to win. Maybe you can bring your buddy Zach, too. But even if you can't, you know the Wings will go after the next star, and the next one, and the next one.
– Minnesota: Speaking of Zach, what if he signs with the Wild?
Minnesota doesn't seem to be close to the Cup. But the Wild led the league early in 2011-12 and has some good prospects. Ownership is being aggressive. If you and Zach show up in St. Paul together, that changes things, doesn't it?
[Related: Canucks give Jason Garrison long term, big bucks]
Zach would be going home to the Twin Cities. Milwaukee doesn't have an NHL team, let alone Madison, so this might be the next closest thing to home for you. They call Minnesota the State of Hockey, but it isn't the Centre of the Hockey Universe like Toronto, where the media is all over you all the time.
You and Zach could be the leaders of an up-and-coming team. You could establish your own tradition. You could do it while living your upper Midwestern lifestyle. But you'll have to ask yourself if you want to go alone in case Zach goes somewhere else, like …
– Pittsburgh: Not sure the Penguins can sign both of you. But they’ve made offers to both of you for a reason, and if you guys want to do it, I'm sure everybody could find a way to make it work. You could take a little less for a chance to win on a star-studded team. They could clear cap space.
If I were the Penguins, as much as I'd want Parise, I'd actually want you more. I attended almost all of their first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. They obviously need defense more than more offense. For all the talk about finding a long-term winger for Crosby, he's done OK to this point, right?
[Also: Carolina locks up Jordan Staal with 10-year, $60-million extension]
You're a steady defensive presence and a left-handed shot. You could complement the flashy, right-handed Kris Letang on the top pair, much the same way you’ve complemented the booming, right-handed Webs for so many years.
With Crosby drawing reporters like bugs to a blue light every single day, you could slip out the back door a lot. Pittsburgh's another place where hockey matters, but doesn't matter too much.
Now, the Penguins have gotta do what they gotta do. Crosby just took a hometown discount, and if the captain, the face of the franchise, the face of the game, wants Zach on his wing, that's the priority. Maybe they also think they have a better shot at him because you have said you want to stay in the West.
But in a salary-capped league of parity, where the talent is spread so evenly, think about one team with Crosby, Malkin, Parise, Neal, Suter, Letang …
All right. I know you have a lot to think about. I know you could go to Chicago or Philly or Carolina or any number of other places, too. As you drive around on your tractor going over the pros and cons, just remember that we've all been there.
Or we wish we were.
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