Weber signs second-biggest deal ever in offer sheet with Philadelphia

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

@TimKolupan_

It appears as though the Nashville Predators’ time to win in the NHL has come and gone. After losing defenseman Ryan Suter who signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild on July 4, they lose another one of their Big Three. Captain Shea Weber has reportedly agreed to a massive offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers that is worth up to $110 million over 14 years. The Predators now have seven days to match the offer.

This comes after the Predators were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs during a season they thought they could reach the Stanley Cup final. They either missed the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round in each of their first 11 seasons before finally breaking through in 2010-11. They prepared for a long run last season by acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill late in the season, but were jettisoned in the second round by the Phoenix Coyotes. They have always won on the strength of their defense, but now their top pair, and arguably the best tandem in the league, is potentially gone.

At least Nashville won’t come away empty handed like they did with the Suter signing. Due to Weber’s restricted free agent status, compensation will be owed to Nashville in the way of draft picks.  Depending on just how much is given to Weber, the Preds could stock up on first round draft picks for the near future, replenish their farm system and find younger, cheaper talent to move forward with. From NHL.com:

Nashville has a week to decide whether to match the offer. If they Predators opt not to do so, it is believed they will receive a package of four first-round draft picks from the Flyers, although compensation depends on the annual average value of the contract. The Flyers’ first-round pick has been no higher than No. 20 in each of the past four drafts.

(TSN’s Darren) Dreger reported Nashville was working on a trade and it’s believed several deadlines passed before the Flyers grew tired of waiting and Weber — a restricted free agent — signed the offer sheet.

Shea Weber is the type of player willing to do anything to help his team win. (Casey Fleser from Nashville, TN/Wikimedia Commons)

So if Nashville can’t match the offer, and their financial history shows they likely can’t, there is at least a positive side for them. Compensation for offer sheets have worked out well before. Sure, he was an established NHLer at the time and not a draft pick, but Scott Stevens had an enormously positive effect on the New Jersey Devils when they were rewarded him as compensation for the St. Louis Blues signing Brendan Shanahan in the summer of 1991.

Whether or not the Predators are able to match this offer, Weber will make the second highest amount in guaranteed money ever after Alex Ovechkin who is in the midst of a 13-year, $124 million contract. As long-term contracts may be eliminated during Collective Bargaining Agreement talks, this may be one of the last mammoth deals signed. This is an extremely front-loaded deal that is based on very large signing bonuses that would make Weber the highest paid player in the league the first four years, making the league maximum $14 million each season. It would then taper off and he would make just $1 million a year the final three seasons for a cap hit of $7.857 million. Here is the breakdown of yearly pay according to Frank Seravalli on Philly.com:

2012-13 (age 27): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2013-14 (28): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2014-15 (29): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2015-16 (30): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2016-17 (31): $4 million salary + $8 million signing bonus (total $12 million)
2017-18 (32): $4 million salary + $8 million signing bonus (total $12 million)
2018-19 (33): $6 million salary
2019-20 (34): $6 million salary
2020-21 (35): $6 million salary
2021-22 (36): $6 million salary
2022-23 (37): $3 million salary
2023-24 (38): $1 million salary
2024-25 (39): $1 million salary
2025-26 (40): $1 million salary
TOTAL: $110 million

Since signing bonuses are usually paid out in a lump sum on July 1 before the season of play, the would mean the Predators would be required to pay Weber $27 million in the next 347 days just to match. To put that in perspective, 16.5 percent of Nashville’s entire franchise net worth ($163M as valuated by Forbes Magazine in 2011) would be paid out in less than a calendar year by the small-market team.

For the Flyers, they found the best replacement possible for Chris Pronger who played only 13 games last season and has had to deal with lingering concussion symptoms stemming from getting hit by Mikhail Grabovski’s stick on the follow through of a shot on Oct. 24. It is still unsure if the future Hall of Famer can continue playing next season, if at all, as Pronger is still day to day at best.

No matter how bad he wants to return, it’s best Pronger leaves the game while he can still function. In an interview he did with Coincidental Minors back in March, former NHL center Keith Primeau noted how he is still experiencing post-concussion syndrome even though he has been retired for six years now. This is an injury that never quite heals, that never quite goes away, that can really only get worse as more damage is inflicted. Pronger shouldn’t risk any more damage if he wants to remain healthy the rest of his life, especially as he has nothing left to prove. He has won the Stanley Cup (2007), Norris Trophy (2000), Hart Trophy (2000), Olympic gold medal (2002 and 2010), has played in five All-Star Games (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2008), was on the all-rookie team (1994), was a first team all-star once (2000) and a second team all-star three times (1998, 2004, 2007). There’s not a single person who can find anything wrong with Pronger’s career or reason he does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

The Flyers were a completely different team with Pronger in the lineup. Without him, opponents were able to cycle and make backdoor plays in the Flyers’ zone with ease as there was no other punishing presence like Pronger on their blueline. Now they have Weber, one of the best in the next generation of highly skilled, highly physical defensemen, to guard against the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, John Tavares and Brad Richards.

Seravalli has more on how Weber fits on the Flyers’ blueline and Philadelphia’s history with offer sheets:

Weber would solidify the Flyers’ defense corps for years to come. Weber, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Luke Schenn, Nick Grossmann and Bruno Gervais would all be under contract for at least the next two seasons.

Currently, the Flyers have approximately $12.7 million in cap space available for next season, not including Pronger’s $4.91 million which can be moved to the long-term injury list. That number is based on the temporary cap ceiling of $70.2 million, which could indeed fall based on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current deal expires on Sept. 15, and with a lockout now looming, the NHL’s first proposal at the negotiating table included a cap drop to $64 million for next season. Any of those numbers could limit the Flyers to re-signing restricted free agentJake Voracek, who is due for a decent raise.

Then again, it could also mean that the Flyers would need to stash a larger contract in AHL Adirondack to remain cap compliant, something they have not been afraid to do in the past. Any one of those outcomes is a happy biproduct to landing Weber.

The Flyers are no stranger to offer sheets for restricted free agents. Only a handful have been offered in league history, but the Flyers signed Chris Gratton from Tampa Bay to one in 1997. The Flyers, also under Bob Clarke, signed Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler to one, though the Canucks chose to match that off-the-wall, one-year, $1.9 million deal. The Flyers flirted with an offer sheet for Lightning star Steven Stamkos last summer before ultimately deciding against it.

The last free agent to sign an offer sheet in the NHL was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. He signed a 4-year, $14 million offer from San Jose on July 9, 2010, but the Blackhawks chose to match the deal just 3 days later.

Those contracts, along with other move such as trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last summer, show the Flyers and GM Paul Holmgren are not afraid to make move when necessary. They understand what the weaknesses are and will stop at nothing until they are corrected.

So many have been waiting to see what will happen with Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash, it seems as though Weber has slipped through the cracks, going unnoticed in the large hockey circles this summer. But it seems like we are back in the old days before the 2005 lockout when big-market teams like Philadelphia are able to poach players away from the small-market teams. One has to imagine this contract will be brought up in CBA negotiations this summer as the league looks to even the bar among teams.

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