August 02, 2011
(And the No. 1 reason to get nominated for an NHL Award? Nameplate valets, apparently.)
Dozens of NHL players have gone to arbitration, but Shea Weber(notes) has gone where no player has gone before, according to his agent Jarrett Bousquet. He tweeted that Tuesday's faceoff between the Nashville Predators and their Norris-nominated defenseman was the first time in NHL history a "team elected arbitration" has gone to hearing.
In recent history, we've had Zach Parise(notes) and the New Jersey Devils settling on a one-year deal before club-elected arbitration; Patrick Kaleta(notes) and the Buffalo Sabres avoiding a hearing with a two-year deal last summer; and Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) and the Pittsburgh Penguins avoiding one with a seven-year deal in 2008.
The Penguins elected for arbitration with Fleury to protect him from an offer sheet while they negotiated what seemed like a formality. The Predators did the same with Weber, and the vibe was generally the same: Keep the vultures away while the sides worked towards a long-term deal to keep Weber with the Predators.
The odds that Weber and the Preds would actually have a hearing seemed long, to the point where an all-night "Weber Watch" on Twitter optimistically anticipated a new contract announcement.
Yet there they were in Toronto on Tuesday morning, with Weber's side arguing for a large salary and the Predators presumably coming up with some kind of critique of Weber's game to bring it down. ("Ryan Suter made him!" "He can't break through steel with his shot!" "There were bugs in his beard by Round 2 of the playoffs!")
Even before an award's been given in the case, has the damage been done?
While this is not a doomsday scenario for the Predators, it's certainly not an enviable one. They have to get up in front of an arbitrator and tell this person why Shea Weber is not worth the money he wants.
There are a few different ways to do this. The Predators can bash Weber and bring out whatever negatives they can find. And they'd have to dig pretty deep there. They can also argue that the market place for a player of Weber's age and caliber is similar to say, Dion Phaneuf's(notes) $6.5 million per year deal, which is believed to be more in line with what they want.
Meanwhile, there's been palpable psychological damage done here for Predators fans. The sugar high of the first playoff series win in franchise history has turned into brain freeze.
Dirk Hoag of On The Forecheck is contemplating the future of Weber and the Preds because of the hearing:
The uncomfortable, but natural question coming out of all this is whether the Shea Weber era in Nashville might end before it even got rolling.
Given the point that's been reached, is this the guy the Preds really want wearing the "C"? Does he even want it? And what does this mean for the prospect of locking up Ryan Suter(notes) and Pekka Rinne(notes) as well?
I'm not trying to be alarmist, but arbitration most often signals the beginning of the end of a player-team relationship, and it's stunning to see the Predators and their captain get to this point.
Weber is two years away from unrestricted free agency; Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter arrive there next summer. The captain was supposed to be the primary support beam in the franchise's foundation, a symbol of stability to lure those players (or at least Suter) back to the fold. Instead, there's unsettling uncertainty.
The award here, unless the two sides can agree on an 11th-hour deal, will be fascinating.