The Nashville Predators had no choice and they knew it. There was no way they could keep any credibility with their fans if they did not match the Philadelphia Flyers' offer sheet for Shea Weber. Now the man many consider the best defenceman in the NHL is bound to the Predators for 14 years and $110-million (all currency U.S.).
The Predators announced their decision on their website Tuesday afternoon, calling it "the most important hockey transaction in franchise history."
Weber, 26, rocked the Predators last week when he signed the offer sheet and made it clear through his agent he no longer wanted to play in Nashville. Weber, who became a restricted free agent July 1, chose the Flyers after visiting Philadelphia, the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings.
Once Weber's defence partner Ryan Suter bolted from the Predators as a free agent, signing a 13-year, $98-million deal with the Minnesota Wild, Weber started to look around. His agent said he no longer wanted to be part of a rebuild but wanted to go to a team with a chance to win a Stanley Cup championship.
Weber and the Flyers structured the offer sheet to make it difficult for the perpetually cash-strapped Predators to match. It calls for $68-million in signing bonuses in the first six years. For example, even if the NHL does not start the season on time this fall because of a potential lockout, the Preds will still have to pony up $13-million as a signing bonus.
Even though Weber is now a Predator for the rest of his NHL career, this does not settle the situation. The Predators have to decide if they want to continue with an obviously unhappy team captain.
There is not a great deal of sympathy for Weber. When he agreed to the Flyers' offer sheet, even though it was set up to maximize the chances the Predators would not match it, Weber had to know there was a good chance they would. So now he has to live with that.
The Predators can look at this in two ways. One is that back in January when they announced the signing of star goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49-million contract, general manager David Poile said he hoped to do likewise with Weber and Suter.
Seven months later, Poile had kept two of the franchise's three cornerstones. Most hockey people would say that's not bad, that any team would like to build on a pair like Weber and Rinne.
However, even if Weber tries to put a happy face on this, he is not going to make people forget he clearly wanted out.
But the Predators' hands were tied. They are finally making inroads with the sporting public in Nashville, and declining to match the Flyers' offer would have turned off their fans. Plus, the four first-round draft picks the Predators would have received as compensation for Weber from the Flyers would not have come close to matching his value.
Now Poile and his bosses have to decide if they want to keep Weber in the long term if he remains unhappy. Under the collective agreement, a team cannot trade a player for one year after it matches an offer sheet.
No-move rights, all the rage for the big free agents, cannot be part of an offer sheet. But they can be added later when the offer sheet becomes a contract. Would anyone blame Poile for telling Weber and his agent where to get off when they come calling with the request on Wednesday?
One year from now, assuming the next collective agreement is similar to the one that expires Sept. 15, Poile could hold an auction for Weber. Even though Weber will be the highest-paid player in the NHL and sporting another 13 years on his contract, there would still be enough teams bidding on him for Poile to reap far more than four draft picks that come late in the first round.
It's something worth considering, even if it means shipping out a cornerstone.