NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The largest contract in the history of the Nashville Predators and the second largest in NHL history was cause for a celebration on Wednesday, as defenceman Shea Weber and team representatives addressed the media and fans with smiles from ear to ear.
A day after the franchise matched the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet the Philadelphia Flyers gave to Weber, team chairman Tom Cigarran, president of hockey operations and general manager David Poile and CEO Jeff Cogen gathered on the plaza in front of Bridgestone Arena to rejoice.
Later, Weber and Predators coach Barry Trotz spoke to reporters via conference call.
“It is a very exciting time for the Predators organization and myself,” Weber said. “It is a big step in the right direction. The ownership showed a commitment here obviously in the last week. Going forward, now I can focus on the important stuff: getting ready for the season and getting ready to go this year.”
When the final decision to match the offer sheet was made Tuesday, Poile asked Trotz to drive to Weber’s home to deliver the news.
“This is the biggest signing in franchise history,” Trotz said. “Going forward it was a huge message not only to our own team but to the rest of the league that we are serious about contending every year and we have the team to do that.”
After the Flyers announced that they had signed Weber late last Wednesday, the Predators had seven days to match and retain the services of their captain, or let him go to the Flyers in exchange for four first-round draft picks as compensation. After analyzing it for six days, the Predators knew the right way to go … costly or not.
“It was a very interesting four or five days,” Poile said. “If anything, I think it brought our organization even more together than it was. At the end of the day, when we knew what we were going to do, I think it really galvanized our whole organization. Everybody thinks we made the right decision. I know we made the right decision.”
As for the Flyers, it’s back to the drawing board. They let a pair of big-name free agents walk—defenceman Matt Carle (Tampa Bay) and forward Jaromir Jagr (Dallas)—and missed out on big-name, big-ticket unrestricted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, a forward and defenceman, respectively, who both signed with Minnesota.
And now, without Weber, they have several question marks on the blue line. Chris Pronger, a stabilizing force back there who helped the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, dealt with injuries all season and played in just 13 games. His future is uncertain. And for a team that has lost in the second round the last two seasons, the same now can be said for the Flyers overall.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t like our defence moving forward,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “We have a good up-and-coming young team, and we’re trying to add to it without subtracting. And we’ll continue to try and do that with the mindset that we’ll do what we think is necessary to make our team as good as it can be.”
The disappointment, however, is there nonetheless.
“The initial reaction was disappointment, but I guess we move on,” Holmgren said. “The chance of them matching was always there, however hopeful we were of them not, it was always there, and they did. Now we move forward and see what we can do. We like our team.”
Entering free agency, Nashville said they would match any offer Weber signed, and on Tuesday, the organization stayed true to that word.
“Shea is our leader and we did what it took to keep him a Predator,” Cigarran said. “The Predators are not here just to survive, but to be an elite franchise that competes for the Cup every year. Our players, players with other organizations around the league and those organizations can now see that the Nashville Predators will not be pushed around by teams from bigger markets.”
Weber has served as captain for two seasons. He finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy in both of those seasons, and tied for the league lead in goals by a defenceman with 19 last year. His ten power-play goals led all at his position.
In 480 career regular-season games, all with Nashville, Weber has 99 goals and 164 assists. In 43 playoff games, he has ten goals and 20 points. Weber won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“I love the city of Nashville,” Weber said. “I love the fans. I love my teammates.”
His paycheque isn’t bad, either.