The Nashville Predators summer of discontent worsened with a massive "bunker-buster" bomb blast from the Philadelphia Flyers in the early morning hours on Thursday when the news leaked that Preds' captain, Shea Weber, had signed a $110 million, 14-year offer sheet with the bad boy team in the Eastern Conference.
The Predators have little choice but to match the offer before next Wednesday's deadline. It appears that the Flyers tired of negotiating with Preds GM David Poile on a possible trade and just upped the ante by throwing out the offer that defined the market value for the best all-round young defenseman in the game.
It was common belief that Weber would either be re-signed to a long term deal similar to the one Ryan Suter signed or be traded to another team for a king's ransom. Poile's mantra all summer has been that he would match any team's offer sheet for Weber which was supposed to ward off such attempts.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren put Poile to the ultimate test, front-loading the deal with $68 million in signing bonuses and offering to shell out $80 million in the first six years of the contract. I'm sure the Preds were prepared to pay a similar total amount but not so much so soon.
The statement released by the Preds from Poile appeared to allow wiggle room to not match the deal if it were not in the best interest of the team. It read:
"We are in receipt of the offer sheet signed between the Philadelphia Flyers and Shea Weber. Under the rules pertaining to an offer sheet, the Predators have one week to decide whether to match or accept the compensation. We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea. Our ownership has provided us with the necessary resources to build a Stanley Cup-winning team. Due to the complexity of the offer sheet, we will take the appropriate time to review and evaluate it and all of its ramifications in order to make the best decision for the Predators in both the short and long-term."
“We do not anticipate any further comments on this situation until we make our decision within the next seven days.”
I personally, think that the Preds will eventually match the offer after all the owners rearrange their planned finances for the next few years, but there is going to be a lot of heartburn among the ownership group in making the numbers work on someone else's terms.
Heartburn has been common for owners, management, coaches, and especially fans since the team hit the franchise's high water mark on the night of April 20. They took down the rival Detroit Red Wings in five games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and appeared set to go all the way to the finals.
A week later, the Predators traveled to Phoenix and outplayed the Coyotes for 74 minutes before the Yotes beat the Preds in another of their overtime wins that they seem to have cornered the market on in their opening series with Chicago.
Confidence was still high until game two when the Preds laid an egg in a 5-3 loss two days later that was played much worse that the score revealed. So they were down 2-0 but were coming back to Smashville for home cooking and the continued march to the Cup.
The clouds of gloom and doom were waiting for the team when they got home and it was revealed that wayward Russian, Alex Radulov and his pal Andrei Kostitsyn, a known party boy, had broken curfew before the horrible game two loss and would be suspended by the Preds for game three.
In spite of the ruckus, in their return to Bridgestone Arena for game three, the team came back with a 2-0 win which would be the team's last gasp of air for the season. A 1-0 loss in game four and then the final nail in the coffin was a 2-1 loss in game five.
And then it got worse.
At the Predators locker room clean out a couple of days later everyone was saying all the right things, All said that the suspension was not a "distraction" and all that, but their was clearly an unspoken discontent in the air. This team was destined for a parade on lower Broad and was derailed prematurely.
The low point of the clean out was Ryan Suter hiding from the TV cameras and then blessing a few of us with a teary-eyed farewell interview. When Suter retreated to the other room, there was no one in the group of six or seven that remained that did not feel that they had seen the end of Suter's career as a Predator.
Fans were numb as they watched the Kings march to lifting the Cup. There was some joy in Pred-ville as Pekka Rinne blazed all the way to the finals in the fan contest to put a player on the cover of NHL 13. Funny videos and an endorsement from Charlie Sheen gave fans a faux boost when they really needed it.
Then the Predators gang of four award nominees headed to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards Show where Shea Weber was a shoe in for the Norris and Peks was all set to grace the cover of a video game. David Poile was there for the third time for GM of the Year and Mike Fisher was up for the NHL Foundation Award.
The Norris Trophy was the first announcement and Shea Weber lost to offensive-defenseman Eric Karlsson and it went further downhill when Rinne lost the cover to Claude Giroux. Fisher did become the second Pred to win an award with his Foundation Trophy and $25,000 grant to Nashville's Room at the Inn.
Everyone talked to the media afterwards except Weber who had to be thinking that after losing to Karlsson maybe finishing his career in Smashville may not win him all the Norris Trophies that he might deserve.
July 1 came with all the free agents and nothing surprising happened. Jordin Tootoo went to the Wings which will be great for the rivalry and David Poile landed Hal Gil, Paul Gaustad, and boomerang Pred, Chris Mason.
Before the Weber offer sheet, the previous biggest blow in Predator history came on the Fourth of July when ex-Pred owner Craig Leipold cornered the market on UFA's by picking up Ryan Suter and his pal, Zach Parise in twin $98 million deals. Poile openly showed his pain from Suter's betrayal but was ready to move on and sign Shea Weber.
While Poile was conducting positive "conversations" with Weber's group, reports indicate that Shea himself was meeting with several other teams that may have been considering offer sheets including the Flyers.
So now, after over two months of misery the most crucial week in Preds history has begun. Even if the Predators match the Flyer's offer sheet, what version of Shea Weber will the team have purchased?
The Captain earned the right to go kick other team's tires as an RFA but what if he actually liked the bigger market Philadelphia team better and saw it as a place to win several Norris Trophies with all the local PHWA voters in his hip pocket.
We probably will never know Weber's inner thoughts because he is a team player and if the Preds bring him back he will continue to represent the team well as the Captain and say all the right things to the press.
Now we ponder, will the summer of discontent get better or will the the other shoe fall to let the tailspin continue.
So the countdown has begun. Hold on to see what happens next.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass