Generally at various points during summers since 2012, the city of Nashville often heard noise from north of the border. The sounds came from cities (cough, Edmonton, cough) mentioning how the team in that area (the Oilers) would LOVE to trade pretty much everyone on its team for All-Star, All-World, All-Awesome Predators defenseman Shea Weber.
The crux of this thinking was easy. Nashville always needed forwards. The Oilers had tons of young forwards. Nashville ‘didn’t have the money’ to pay Philadelphia’s 14-year $110 million offer sheet toward Weber, which included yearly July 1 lump-sum bonuses of $13 million over the first four years of the deal. He’ll get $8 million bonuses the next two summers – not as much but still a lot to give a guy one day of the year. And then the poison pill of the deal will be over in real dollars, though his cap hit will stay close to $8 million.
Also, since Weber signed said offer sheet, it was clearly an indication he didn’t want to play in Nashville, right?
But there was no way it was going to happen. There was no chance Preds general manager David Poile was going to trade Weber – his captain, best player and symbol of franchise strength. Beyond all the aforementioned issues, Weber was one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and probably one of the league’s 10 best players. You don’t trade guys like that.
The previous couple of summers, the timing was never right – Weber signed his offer sheet in 2012. But now, is it really such a bad idea? The answer is no. In fact, trading Weber may actually be the right move for Nashville – especially after the Preds held their own against the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks without Weber in the lineup. He was hurt in the middle of Game 2 of their six-game first-round loss to Chicago with a subluxed kneecap.
As good as Weber is, and has been for Nashville, the Predators have never gotten past the second-round of the playoffs with him as the team’s captain. He’s going to be 30 years old next season. And with the Predators seeing dynamic younger players coming through their system, especially at the blueline, is now the time to deal Weber?
We give five reasons why Nashville should trade Weber, at least at some point within the next year.
1. The offers will be ridiculously in Nashville’s favor
His $7.857 million salary cap hit, while less awful in today’s post 2012-13 lockout world, is a lot. Also, some teams have the money, and the lunacy, to part with multiple good, young NHL-ready forwards Nashville needs. Weber is a physical speciman and cornerstone defenseman, but his perceived value, especially amongst old boys GMs, may be greater than his actual worth. Many probably still drool over this 2010 Olympics shot where the puck went through the net on a goal.
The Oilers under former general manager Craig MacTavish always seemed to be hot after Weber. And he’s the type of player the current Edmonton group could use with Connor McDavid coming in. Wait, how would Weber ever allow a trade to EdmonHoth? Oh yeah, the Predators didn’t give him any no-trade clause. So they can deal him to whatever team they want.
And new Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli has seemed OK with dealing good, young forwards at points of his career. If you’re going to trade the face of your franchise, you need to make sure you get the right pieces back. There are teams that have the type of NHL-ready young talent who can step in and score right away – like again, Edmonton.
2. Nashville is strong on the blueline without Weber
With Weber, Nashville is loaded with solid right-handed shooting defensemen. Without Weber, Nashville still has strong right-handed shooting defensemen. Most teams would love to have Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis ... as first and second pairing defensemen. Both are on the second and third paris with Weber in Nashville. The Predators already have two wonderfully underrated blueliners in Roman Josi and advanced stat darling Mattias Ekholm on the left side.
Josi’s numbers, from a traditional and advanced perspective, were actually better than Weber’s this past season. Josi had 15 goals and 40 assists to Weber’s 15 goals and 30 assists.
If you’re a team with obvious holes, like Nashville does at center, why not deal from a position of strength, being defense, in order to add a center? You really think the Predators can go on a run with a Mike Ribeiro-Mike Fisher duo next year? Nope. Weber is Nashville’s ticket toward getting that precious first-line center commodity.
3. Was 2014-15 just a down year for Weber? Why wait to find out?
Weber’s 15 goals were his lowest full-season total of his career. His 45 points were his lowest total since 2009-10. At Nashville’s locker cleanout day, the Predators said he played the end of the year with patella tendonitis. He also had surgery for a subluxed kneecap after Game 2 in the first-round of the playoffs. Knowing Weber, he’ll probably train as hard as humanly possible to put himself back in a position to succeed next year.
But why wait to see if there is any residual damage? He’s not in his mid-20s anymore. He’s going to be 30 next year and his value will only drop the longer you hold onto him. On the Forecheck wrote a piece indicating Weber had started his decline and gave us some examples of different defensemen and how their point totals dropped after the age of 30. A prior study showed peak age for a defenseman is around 29. Unless Weber is built along the same mold as Chris Chelios or Nick Lidstrom, there’s a better chance he’ll decline than maintain his 15-20 goal, 45-50 point per-season total.
4. Nashville’s 2016 RFA summer
Poile has always been smart about giving good value contracts to his players. Josi looks like a steal at seven years, $28 million. Jones and Forsberg will both hit the end of their entry-level contracts next summer. As a rookie last year, Forsberg (26 goals, 62 points) already bested Brandon Saad’s single-season career highs for goals and points. Saad is a big, power winger making $6 million per-year over the next six years, a mega-raise from his entry-level contract. In fact he wanted such a raise that the Blackhawks did the once unthinkable and traded him to Columbus.
He also has won two Stanley Cups, but that deal has to be a starting point for Forsberg – provided he builds on last season. Also, what will Jones ask for in his next contract?
You’re talking about two contracts for two core guys that are going to get big raises. The Preds will lose Paul Gaustad’s $3.25 mill contract next summer but that’s about it as far as major deals.
5. Turn the franchise over to someone new
End this marriage and turn the leadership over to someone different and the team over to your younger guys. Weber has given his all to the Preds since he was drafted by Nashville in 2003, but this marriage has felt awkward since the offer sheet, and even before when the Predators and Weber went to salary arbitration in 2011. Does he want to be there? Does he not? No matter what both sides say, there’s always conjecture. There was with Joe Sakic after the Rangers inked him to an offer sheet, before he won his second Stanley Cup with Colorado. Ryan O’Reilly and the Avalanche came to an un-ceremonial end this offseason with a trade to Buffalo. O’Reilly also had trouble coming to terms with the Avs in prior years. This will follow Weber his entire career in Nashville.
Josi looks like a type of building block as do Forsberg and Jones. The Predators have always been in search of a ‘Big Three’ position players (they clearly already have an awesome goalie) that other teams have, but they’ve always lacked. That’s your trio. Grow with them, accentuate their talents, make them better, even if it means trading the old guard and adding new core players.
In conclusion …
Look, trading a superstar isn’t as easy for Nashville as most other NHL teams. There’s a marketing element – a ticket selling component that comes with Weber. Watching him bomb 106 mph shots every night is a thrill. The team's press conference after it matched his Philly offer sheet had a ceremonial feel. There’s emotion that involves him. There's always the search for relevancy and sponsorship dollars with this smaller market team in a city, and region where football dominates. But this is a cutthroat business. It’s about winning, even if that means dealing the face of your franchise.
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