The Nashville Predators and All Star defenseman Shea Weber emerged from their arbitration hearing with the Predators captain receiving a one year, $7.5 million dollar contract. Not only is Weber now the highest paid Predator player (he should be), but he is also the recipient of the largest arbitration award in the history of the NHL. At the end of this contract, Weber will still be a RFA under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Both Weber and General Manager David Poile held a conference call today to discuss the results of the negotiations and the arbitration process. Weber stated that the relationship that he has with Poile and the team are in his mind, "still solid", and it is his belief that the owners and David Poile are committed to winning a Stanley Cup in Nashville and will do what is necessary to bring the Cup here.
Weber stated that he was not offended by the offer the Predators made in arbitration and that he understood that it is "just business and part of the process." Weber did mention that he did not realize how intense the process was and was glad to have all of this behind him and was ready to just focus on the upcoming season.
For his part, David Poile said that Weber's changing of agents ( to Titan Sports Management and agent Jarrett Bousquet) did not present a tremendous impediment to the negotiating process. Both sides had to get used to each other, but the process was quickly accomplished. Poile said that it was not just dollars and term that were negotiating points with Weber's agent, but also the direction in which the team was moving.
And this is where it gets interesting.
The report I have just given you about the conference call and Weber's signing has been perfunctory up to this point.
The latter part of the call was a time where David Poile, in response to a question about the Predators not doing much in free agency, spoke about his forward group. Poile reiterated his remarks that were made at the Skate of the Union meeting several weeks ago that this young forward group could be very good, better without a few of the veterans that were jettisoned in the off season and ready to elevate their play to another level. Poile has a sincere belief that this group of forwards can lead the Predators to challenge for the Cup.
That point can- and will be- debated by Predator fans throughout the upcoming season.
Here is what is important about this group of forwards as it relates to Weber: if they produce as Poile believes they will, this team could challenge for the Cup. And remember what the three critical negotiating points were between Poile and Weber's agent? Salary, term, and the DIRECTION OF THIS TEAM.
There is no secret that Weber has been a winner at every level and every stop along the way to the NHL. His competitive fires burn white hot. He wants to win the Cup.
If he feels the possibility of doing that will occur in Nashville with this group of players, then I suspect you will see Weber inked to a longer term deal and he will remain a Predator. If the sense on his part is that it will not happen in the foreseeable future in Nashville, then Weber is gone by the trade deadline next season.
So about those forwards...
If they mature and take it to the next level, as Poile believes they can do, this team could become a serious contender for the Cup. If, however, they do not make that next step in their development, this team will continue to struggle offensively.
And that could lead to the exit of Weber from the Predators.
No pressure on this group of forwards, eh?
I have to admire Poile, because he has taken the stance that the team has drafted well and developed players that can do more than compete at the NHL level. They can win. That is what every team wants- good prospects that are developed into NHL caliber players that contribute to winning. Every GM in the League strives to successfully build this model.
Perhaps no GM, however, has as much riding on the success and continued development of their prospects and young roster players as do the Predators. It is they play of this group that will as much as any other factor determine Weber's future in Nashville.
No pressure there, boys.
This team will be competitive with the players they have and the coaching staff. There is no doubt in my mind about that. This team has to go beyond competitive now, if they want to retain players like Weber, and Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne next season. They have to go deep into the playoffs and progress closer to the Cup if not win it outright.
Do that, and you want have to worry about retaining these players.
Fail to do so, and the ability to retain those upper echelon players will become much more difficult.
Not only are Predator fans watching to see if David Poile is right.
So is Shea.