Did Philadelphia Flyers Cross the Line with Shea Weber Offer Sheet?
The Philadelphia Flyers offered RFA defenseman Shea Weber a front-loaded offer sheet. Can the Nashville Predators meet the up-front cash demands, and was it fair?
Shea Weber’s first year under his offer sheet signed with the Philadelphia Flyers will be worth what Forbes estimates to be more than 16% of the total value of the Nashville Predators franchise. While the salary cap hit is reasonable over the 14 years of the monster contract, Shea Weber’s front-loaded $110 million deal will be a challenging financial burden for the Predators to meet immediately. By flexing the power of the Philadelphia hockey market and the financial stability of the Flyers, did GM Paul Holmgren violate some unwritten hockey rule?
The front-loaded nature of the deal seems like a deliberate ploy to make Shea Weber’s offer sheet one that the Nashville Predators cannot match. While the Preds maintained throughout the process they intended to match any offer sheet, the bonus structure of Weber’s deal may very well make it impossible for a small-market team to contend with. The first four years of the contract include $13 million in bonuses and $1 million in salary, nearly double the salary cap hit over the duration of the deal. Quite simply, the Nashville Predators may not be able to come up with $56 million dollars in the first four years of the deal. After all, goaltender Pekka Rinne’s entire seven-year deal is only worth $49 million.
Even if the Nashville Predators are able to scrape together the necessary money to keep Shea Weber, the nature of the contract was clearly designed to cripple a small-market franchise. However, this particular small market franchise is as stable as they come. This is not the Phoenix Coyotes or Atlanta Thrashers losing their superstar to an evil giant. The Preds have loyal fans and a consistent winner, which is a recipe for a financially stable team. People care about hockey in Nashville – averaging 16,700 fans per game and nearly 98% capacity through the regular season. This is not the David and Goliath battle that it initially appears to be. The Predators can sign Shea Weber if they choose to, I just don’t think Weber is worth this kind of money regardless of the financial feasibility of the contract for the Preds.
Assuming the Philadelphia Flyers deliberately concocted an evil and unmatchable offer sheet to poach Shea Weber from the Predators, did they cross the imaginary RFA etiquette line? Was this front-loaded, overpriced contract designed with the sole purpose of blowing away a small-market franchise? Even if it was, would that be so terrible?
Last year’s biggest free agency signing was Brad Richards to the Original Six, big-market, just-as-evil New York Rangers who whisked Richards away from the smaller market Dallas Stars. Granted Brad Richards was not a restricted free agent, but Richards’ deal is worth $42 million in the first two years before dropping off to a meager million dollars in his final year. The Rangers weren’t trying to bury the Stars, they were simply trying to lure Brad Richards to Madison Square Garden. Comparatively, Shea Weber’s “questionable” offer sheet is worth just $26 million dollars in its first two years. The design of the contract is not some unethical ploy from the Philadelphia Flyers, rather a product of the free agency market in the NHL.
Moreover, the Flyers did their best to work out a trade with the Nashville Predators for the rights to Shea Weber. Nashville knew that once the RFA deadline passed, they risked losing Shea Weber for a compensation package of four first round draft picks. Losing Weber to a contender like Philadelphia means those picks will come in the later part of the first round in all likelihood. By allowing Weber to reach the open market, the Predators did this to themselves in the same way the New Jersey Devils lost Zach Parise. At least Nashville gets draft picks if they choose not to match.
Philadelphia violated no rules. The Flyers attempted to maintain a relationship with the Nashville Predators throughout their courtship of Shea Weber. The Preds had every opportunity to move Shea Weber while negotiating a contract this offseason. By allowing Weber to reach the open market despite his restricted free agency status, the Predators knew this could happen. The Philadelphia Flyers are not to blame. In fact, the Flyers may have done the Nashville Predators a favor. Shea Weber reportedly refused multiple long-term deals during the negotiation process. By signing a 14-year deal, the Predators get to decide exactly what Weber is worth. Shea Weber is either worth $110 million through a market-value contract and will be a Nashville Predator for life, or the Preds get draft picks and move on. The Flyers did nothing wrong by extending a monstrous offer sheet to Shea Weber. They need Weber to bolster the defensive corps in front of Ilya Bryzgalov, and the Nashville Predators have total control of what happens next.
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