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What will happen to Nashville’s Big 3: Weber, Suter, Rinne?

By the end of the summer, Shea Weber(notes) is still going to be a member of the Nashville Predators and will be compensated handsomely for it. He wants to stay, they want him to stay and with an arbitration hearing on the docket for Aug. 2, he's protected from an offer sheet.

So it becomes a matter of "how much?" and "for how long?", which are two difficult questions to answer when you're talking about a 25-year-old Norris Trophy finalist.

From The Tennessean on Wednesday:

"We've had long talks; we seem to be coming to a bit of a stalemate. We still have time to work before the system kicks in," Weber's agent, Jarrett Bousquet said. "Shea would like to be a Predator. He enjoys playing there with a team that's on the cusp of doing something great."

The Predators filed for arbitration with Weber in mid-June in order to give themselves more time to negotiate a deal with their captain. Should the Predators and Weber go to arbitration, he would decide whether an arbitrator would award him a one- or two-year deal. At the conclusion of such a deal, Weber would be an unrestricted free agent.

(To be clear on something that's been giving Preds blogger Dirk Hoag the red-ass: The Predators elected to go to arbitration; hence, they can't walk away from the contract that's eventually awarded.)

What Weber ends up earning contractually, it will be the first of three key decisions for the Nashville Predators before next summer. That's when defenseman Ryan Suter(notes) and goalie Pekka Rinne(notes) are both eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Which is why the next few months could offer some extraordinarily difficult choices for GM David Poile.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports writes that the Predators were a team negatively impacted by this summer's free-agent bonanza:

Several execs and agents looked at this year's contracts and basically said, "That's big trouble for a non-cap team that has to deal with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne." I asked a few execs where these guys stand now. The consensus: Weber, $6.5-$7.5 million; Suter, $6-$7 million, Rinne, $6 million.

Ultimately, all of them are going to have to decide if they want to win in Nashville, because they're going to get offers to win somewhere else. (Rinne and Suter are UFAs next summer, while Weber doesn't get there until July 2013.) David Poile could probably pay Weber whatever he wants, but that means less to build around him. The good news for Predators fans: don't think it's tremendously important to Weber to be the highest paid defenceman in the league (Brian Campbell, $7.14 million US average annual value).

Still, we're talking about potentially committing $21.5 million to three players who aren't primarily tasked with putting the puck in the net.

In a way, perhaps that's refreshing: Better to pay two minutes-hording defensemen and a goaltender that large percentage of the overall team salary than, say, become the top-heavy Tampa Bay Lightning who pay Vinny, Marty and Steven a combined $20.85 million.

But if a decision had to be made by the Predators to jettison one of the three, who would it be?

Kristopher Martel of The Predatorial (via On The Forecheck) broke it down, and would bid adieu to Rinne:

Evidenced when Suter is injured, Shea Weber almost seems to be a shell of his self without his linemate on the ice (this season he had 1g/2a/-8 in 9 games while Suter was injured, the team went 3-5-1). Weber and Suter are like Ice Cream and Cake, a definitive combination of superiority. Suter's hockey-smarts and on-ice abilities are hardly rivaled in the defensive aspect of the game. He's a true decision maker and I don't believe Weber would want anyone else as his partner on the ice.

Pekka Rinne is one of the top goaltenders in the world. Not the league, the world. He has a monstrous net presence and has one of the best work ethics in the league. He does not like to be beaten and gets visibly angry when you do sneak one past him. He makes the most difficult saves look simple and makes the easy saves look like highlight-reel material.

However, behind Pekka Rinne lie 3, maybe even 4, NHL-quality goaltenders in the making. Anders Lindback(notes) is the real deal. Everything that Pekka Rinne is, but a few years younger. Lindback will be coming in his prime soon and will be JUST as good as Rinne is now.

The Predators don't have many long-standing traditions, but turnover in goal is one of them: From Tomas Vokoun(notes) to Chris Mason(notes) to Dan Ellis(notes) to Pekka Rinne to, now, Andres Lindback, potentially. Rinne is a burgeoning star at 28; but it's hard to imagine the Predators going long-term at $6 million annually with a younger talent like Lindback on hold.

This process begins when the Shea Weber contract negotiation ends. It's a future-defining moment for Nashville.

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