July 4, 2012 will forever be recognized as Independence Day. Nashville Predators enthusiasts will remember this date as the day that defenseman Ryan Suter declared his independence from the organization.
Along with former New Jersey Devils left winger Zach Parise, Suter surprised many NHL fans by forming an alliance with the Minnesota Wild. The Wild reportedly offered each superstar a 13-year, $98-milllion contract. Both players jumped ship from teams who appeared much closer to Stanley Cup contention. The Wild haven't been a playoff representative since 2008. They haven't won a playoff series since 2003.
Predators general manager David Poile admitted that he was surprised by the decision. According to Poile:
"I think disappointment would not adequately describe the word I would like to choose. Disappointed and a little surprised based on all the conversations we've had."
Amongst other things, the Predators offered Suter money (up toward $90 million), a competitive team, and familiarity with Nashville. However, the idea of playing closer to his Wisconsin home was too much for him to pass up. Playing with Parise was icing on the cake.
The Predators have now lost one-third of their star power without getting anything in return except for cap space. They also lost a fan favorite when Jordin Tootoo joined the Detroit Red Wings this offseason. The Predators have greater financial flexibility to add a second-tier free agent such as Matt Carle or Alexander Semin.
But first things first. The Predators need to retrieve that $90-million contract that they were reportedly offering to Suter. Sweeten that contract just a teensy bit. Hand it over to Shea Weber. Give him a couple months to loop the e's. Forgive him if he vertically crosses the "S" a couple times. $100 million may do that to someone.
The Predators need a long-term commitment from Weber. They can't risk letting him walk for nothing in free agency after next season. They shouldn't drag this out until the trade deadline because they won't want to trade him if they're a middle-of-the-road playoff team.
In short, the Predators need to know if "Stayed With You" will apply to the two-time Norris Trophy finalist beyond the 2012-13 season.
The Predators need an answer before the season starts. They may not like that answer now that Suter has abandoned ship. However, they'll be even more disappointed when they're answering season-ticket holders if they have nothing to show following the departures for Suter and Weber.
The Predators have come a long way since overcoming ownership complications during the 2000s. The main problem with losing such prestigious players is the impact that it could have on a growing fan base. The Predators are seen by many hockey fans as an up-and-coming team that has gotten closer to being a Stanley Cup contender with each season. Losing Suter won't help that perception. The Predators could be starting back at step one if they lost Suter and Weber.
The question isn't whether this franchise can afford to keep Weber. The question is whether they can afford to lose him. They certainly can't afford to lose him without getting something in return. The Predators may just have to accept that they'll need to pay a premium if they're going to keep him beyond 2013. Otherwise, they must acquire prospects who won't let them down in a potential trade.
But for the city's sake, don't let him walk away for nothing.
Joshua Huffman graduated from Middle Tennessee State University as a marketing major in 2009. He's been a Middle Tennessee resident from 1986-88 and 2001-present. He lived in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin from 1988-01 and for approximately eight months in 2009-10 as he completed a 20-game volunteer position with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. His favorite sports organizations include the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Cubs, Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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