Sunday, July 29, 2012

Perceptions and Expectations

During the waiting game that was the Predators deciding weber or not... uh, whether or not to match the offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers for Shea Weber, there was a perception among some of the hockey cognoscenti that the Predators would be unable or unwilling to come up with the funds to keep Weber.

The Flyers offer was $110 million over 14 years, with $80 million payable in the first 6 years of the contract. While the AAV under the contract is similar to what Weber was paid this past season ($7.875 million compared to $7.5 million), the contract was structured with heavy front loaded bonus dollars. The perception was that the small market Predators would not be able to match and would lose their Captain and one of their best players.

As you know, the Predators matched the offer sheet and turned perception on its head.

And that may be the seminal moment in the history of this franchise.

There is the fact that the Predators retained their Captain and the services of one the best defenseman in the NHL. That is a positive impact on the ice.

Perhaps more importantly, by matching an aggressive offer sheet, the Predators have begun to change the perception of the organization off the ice to one that can retain homegrown talent as well as one that will pay for elite players.

Throughout their existence, the Predators have been a team that has been...frugal. Cheap sounds so harsh, but perhaps is accurate. Squeezing every dollar and operating just below the mid point of the salary cap have been a way of life for this organization. It is has been in their DNA since Craig Leipold brought the NHL to Nashville.

And that way of doing business has seen homegrown talent depart  for greener pastures or traded away in salary purges.

In the process, the Predators have been perceived as a hard working team that would develop young talent that they would eventually lose to teams in bigger markets with bigger budgets. Pat them on the head and thank them for developing talent that other teams could pilfer.

Remember this:

The pundits declaring that Nashville couldn't- or wouldn't- pay for the elite players they had developed.

The expectation was that one if not all of these players would be gone, that the Predators would not pay market prices for their services.

What these pundits missed is a change in the DNA of the organization. After Leipold sold the team to local ownership, they set about to change the way the team did business. First and foremost, they committed to spending the money necessary to retain and attract elite players. Local ownership has the financial wherewithal to to support the team. More importantly, they have a willingness to do so, a fact that was rarely displayed under Leipold's leadership.

The signing of Pekka Rinne ($7 million per year for 7 years), while positive for the team, was taken as an indication that the Predators would have difficulty in signing Weber and Ryan Suter. Well, Weber was signed and Suter was given a very handsome offer ($90 million for 13 years). Although the Predators lost Suter to his bromance with Zach Parise and desire to be closer to his family after signing with the Wild, there was every indication that the organization was willing to match the offer from Minnesota. Suter never gave them the chance, but the fact remains that the Predators were very competitive in their offer.

Lost in the noise about signing Weber is the fact that the Predators signed Colin Wilson to a three year contract and Sergei Kostitsyn to a two year contract at market salaries. These signings are in addition to the new contracts signed by Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad at the start of free agency. This is further evidence of the willingness of the owners to spend the dollars necessary to sign players that the organization needs to be a winner.

The Predators owners have said they will spend to the cap, something this team has never done. These signings indicate that they are serious.

To be certain, the team is just at the salary floor and will have to spend more dollars on players that will bolster the roster. They are no where near the cap, and money will have to be spent wisely to add the right players.

But the team has changed direction, and the signing of Weber is dramatic testimony to that change.

The change in direction for the Predators is one that will define the franchise. No longer will the organization develop talent only to see them snatched away. The Predators are not regulated to irrelevant status when it comes to attracting talent. This signing shows players around the League that elite players are welcome in Nashville and will be compensated on a level that was reserved for teams in larger markets.

And in the process, the Predators are changing the perception of the organization. The expectation is changing to one of a team that will pay to add the players necessary to keep winning and progress to the next level.

And that change in perception and expectations is redefining the team. 

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