One of the biggest names on the free agent market this summer will undoubtedly be Shea Weber. This devastating defensive monster of a man has come to define Nashville and the shut-down style of hockey they employ so successfully. But with over half of the Predator’s roster needing to be re-signed, it’s going to be a very difficult post-season at the bargaining table for Nashville’s GM David Poile. And with so few high quality top pairing defensmen on the market, Vancouver (amongst many other suitors) will be putting on their cutest dress and picking up some fancy chocolates in preparation for Weber hitting free agency on July 1st.
Nashville’s to do list this summer is lengthy. In addition to Shea Weber, Poile has the option of attempting to re-sign both of the Kostitsyns, Paul Gaustad (who they gave up a 1st round pick for at trade deadline), Colin Wilson (one of their top rookie prospects), Radulov, Ryan Suter, Yip, Hal Gill and the very capable back-up goalie Anders Lindback. If not, they will have to disassemble the team and start from scratch. Judging by the number of guys left on the roster and whom they can and cannot afford, this year was very much their all or nothing run. Nashville’s crash-and-burn playoff fiasco serves as a warning for teams looking to cash their chips for a shot at the big time – nothing is guaranteed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nashville will have to assess what kind of team they want to be moving forward; as seen in Chicago after the ‘Hawks won the Cup, holding onto just the core and losing all of your peripheral players causes an inevitable backslide. Poile will have to strike the right balance between star players with huge contracts and the depth players that define his franchise. That being said, holding onto Weber, whose pricetag could reach $8.5 million, is nearly out of the question. For a team effectively looking to rebuild, that is a very hefty contract that will remove several other crucial players from the roster.
Even though they most likely can’t afford him while keeping a decent team together, Nashville will undoubtedly make a qualifying offer on Weber. Not only is he the face of their franchise, but by making an offer they keep him from becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent. In turn, Weber will undoubtedly refuse it. If he can’t win a cup with the best team Nashville can put together in the near future, there is no chance he will be sticking around. Still, Weber’s situation is tricky because of his Restricted Free Agent status. Teams are weary of trying to acquire RFA’s through offer sheets because of the number of draft picks they have to give up, especially on larger contracts such as this one. Disappointment from RFA offer sheet signings like Dustin Penner don’t exactly put this issue to rest (although teams might be inclined to forgo their concerns for one of the top 5 d-men in the league). This is far from Gillis’ style and if it comes down to offer sheets, Vancouver will not be in the running for Weber. However, if Weber doesn’t attract an offer sheet from a team willing to throw away the next 4 years of their draft picks, he will remain an RFA. Poile is smart enough to know that keeping an unhappy Weber in town isn’t doing himself any favors, and when he hits Unrestricted Free Agent status the following year he will get absolutely nothing in return for him (just like he is about to encounter with Ryan Suter). Poile will have to barter Weber’s rights to the highest bidder in exchange for a combination of picks, prospects, and players, which once again makes sense for a team looking to rebuild. There are many NHL teams who will be seeking Weber’s talents on their respective blue lines and more than happy to pay the price, Vancouver included. And seeing how Weber is from Sicamous, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get on his radar and convince him how handsome he would look with an Orca plastered to the front of his jersey.
But just because Weber is from B.C. doesn’t mean he is willing to take a pay cut just to play 500 kilometers from where he grew up. Weber will be looking to maintain at least a similar paycheck to what he is currently making (a $7.5 million 1-year deal) because in a world dominated by ego’s, a player is only as good as his salary. Weber’s age is also roughly when players want to sign a big deal and settle down instead of being jostled from city to city. Not to mention other teams looking to acquire him will also help hike up the price and Poile won’t move Weber unless he feels his club is receiving decent returns. The competition for Weber’s contract rights will be fierce with teams like Detroit in the running, in addition to various other clubs with far more cap space than the Canucks. If Mike Gillis want to join in on the bidding war, he will have to be ready to pay big for Weber’s services and provide a lengthy contract (think a bare minimum of 5 years). Not to say this is particularly a bad thing as Weber is unequivocally one of best players in the league, but it isn’t that simple to fit a huge contract into a roster already at the cap ceiling.
Even if Weber decides that Vancouver is a legitimate option, the Canucks being able to afford him is a whole other story. The Canucks currently sit $4 million over the cap because of Ballard’s return; that means if they want to get their hands on Weber, they will have to cut roughly $12 million off the books. If Salo retires ($2 million), Raymond drops to $1 million (from $2.5 million) and we offload Ballard ($4.2 million), Luongo gets traded ($5.33 million) and we sign Schneider at approximately $4 million (i’m just ball-parking), that still leaves around $4 million dollars left to cut (or if Luongo stays, another million on top of that). Not to mention the Canucks still have to consider that they need to leave some cap space kicking around for Burrows, Higgings and Edler who come up for re-signing the year after. With a Cup no longer resting on a platter waiting for this generation of Canucks to seize it, the home team discount they have so generously taken will not be repeated. Burrows deserves double what he is paid right now (a meager $2 million) and Edler could easily ask for $4.5 million (to match Bieksa and Hamhuis). Even Higgins might need a bump up from his $1.9 million to keep him in town. In order to acquire Weber, Gillis is going to have to shake things up and cut some fat to make room. On the other hand, it’s not like the Canucks had a fantastic post-season and should be too attached to very many of their players; it’s just a matter of who gets the guillotine.
If Shea Weber is the solution to our blue line woes, he is also a symbol of our problems with the salary cap. Weber could replace Salo, who is old and usually ailing, and also be a step up from Edler who has shown he is not the number one defenseman we desperately need. But with important contracts coming up for renewal and other large ones already established on the roster (Kesler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, the Sedins, Booth, Ballard, and Luongo), finding a way to make Weber fit isn’t as simple as just pulling a Canucks jersey over his head. It won’t be easy, but if Mike Gillis can convince Weber that Vancouver is right for him, sweeten the deal enough for Poile to send him our way, then somehow squeeze him in under the cap (all of which is what he gets paid to do), Shea could very well be the guy that brings the Canucks right back into Stanley Cup contention. This is a great opportunity for Gillis to prove himself as one of the top GM’s in the league, as well as one who is capable of making the tough decisions. It is also a necessary move for the Canucks because without a number one defenseman to pull this team together, they will once again be shining their clubs far too early come next year’s playoffs.