Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Julius Benedict meets Shea Weber and Predators benefit

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

One of the most unlikely cinematic pairings took place under the watch of Ivan Reitman in the Summer of 1988, as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up for the successful comedy-drama, "Twins."

The idea was that Schwarzenegger's character of Julius Benedict was the result of genetic experiments to produce the perfect offspring, while DeVito's Vincent Benedict was an unintentional side-effect -- hence the ironic title. The former bolts his island paradise where he was raised to enter the latter's Lion's Den of Los Angeles to find his long-lost sibling, and hilarity ensues.

One of the minor, but important plot points in the fish-out-of-water scenario, is that Julius blithely deals with the dangers of the real world by three key ideas, or rules of a crisis situation, confident his logic and his bulging physique will diffuse all trouble.

A crisis situation. That's certainly what the braintrust of the Nashville Predators encountered ever since Flyers GM Paul Holmgren issued his lightning bolt and signed restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber to a $110 million, 14-year offer sheet last week.

Faced with the prospect of losing their top two blueliners in the wake of winning their first-ever playoff series in April (after Ryan Suter was lured away by a $98 million, 13-year deal with Minnesota), Preds GM David Poile and the consortium of owners stared down the barrel of a turning point for the franchise and didn't blink.

First rule: Don't move too soon. Negotiate first and attack last.

We know that Nashville put on the table a $21 million deal over three years during the course of last regular season that failed to impress Weber and his faction or spur any hint of contract negotiations.

So, it was pretty clear from the outset that the Predators weren't going to rush into anything, even after Suter's revealed collusion with Zach Parise to land somewhere together as an unrestricted free-agent package.

Weber, the team captain and biggest asset, made it clear he was going to explore all his options, and did so openly by visiting cities he was interested in, Philadelphia apparently being chief among them. All the while, Nashville played it cool, never giving in to any emotion (however rightful it may have been) on the prospect of their high-scoring game-changer departing with a big payday.

The organization was careful not to paint itself as satisfied with its situation sans Weber, lest it be interpreted as ready to cut ties.

While most of the hockey world assumed that Weber was gone, the implosion of the franchise was imminent and that the Predators organization was playing the bad guy for making us all wait so long, they made the smartest move of all. They made the most of their only bargaining chip in taking most of the mandated seven-day window to cast doubt on what was assumed to be a slam dunk.

Second rule: If you choose to bluff, you must be prepared to have your bluff called. 

Here's where Holmgren sneaks in. Already having submitted offers to both Parise and Suter that acted more like an agent provocateur than anything serious, he makes a stunning gambit and tells the rest of the NHL how intent he is by issuing that mega offer sheet last Thursday morning, under cover of darkness.

He did so only after attempts to work a trade with Poile failed, because, really, why should the Flyers have to ever give up players to get players, or give up in a deal what every other team would consider equal value? If they're not jobbing the system, they're not doing it right.

Technically, both clubs could have pulled off a Chris Gratton, where Nashville could deal the four first-round compensatory picks for players, so long as the offer sheet wasn't matched, and Philly could have signed Weber to their own independent deal. But with the memory of Gratton's year and a half here still lingering, no chance that chance was going to be taken again.

Still, that offer never really placed as much pressure as we thought on the Nashville organization. Philly never officially held Weber's rights when the offer sheet was signed; only a promise that he'd play there, at those contract terms, if the Predators failed to match.

We'll never really be able to guess if Holmgren and whoever else backed him in the effort felt that swinging their collective large-market manhood with that triple-digit-million offer was good enough to bring Nashville to its knees, but it sure seemed like the money and the years involved were intended as a scare tactic.

"It was structured where we were hopeful that they wouldn't match it. But, obviously they did," Holmgren admitted in a Wednesday conference call.

It obviously didn't work. The apparently un-matchable was matched.

Score one for the small market underdogs as of 3:15 PM yesterday, more than 32 hours before the seven-day match-or-lose deadline approached.

“We did not take or make this decision lightly, and we recognized the many ramifications it would have,” Preds owner Tom Cigarran said in an email to season ticket holders that was revealed by The Tennessean on Wednesday. “Retaining Shea sends a powerful message to our own players and potential players that Nashville is a team that is in the hunt to win and this is a desirable place to play! Other teams will now know the Predators will do everything possible to retain its own star players and cannot be viewed as a franchise that can be raided.”

Third rule: Duck!

While the impact of retaining Weber for so long and at such a cost isn't necessarily akin to being buried beneath five tons worth of rapidly-descending chains, things are going to be mighty interesting in roughly one more year.

Under rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Weber cannot be traded for one year, so if he really seemed as disgruntled as he was while entertaining offers, then expect the unexpected until he's unloaded next Summer.

Can he realistically reach near career bests of 19 goals and 49 points as he did last season, plus perform the duties of the captaincy with another impending exit weighing on his mind?

“He’s good. He’s glad to be back,” Weber's agent Jarrett Bousquet said in the Nashville paper. “He’s really happy that ownership made the commitment to him. When I spoke to him, he was going to meet with (Predators Coach Barry Trotz) and he’s really looking forward to getting back to work.”

If what was stated above is the truth, then it wouldn't be a stretch for the Flyers organization to feel like the jilted mistress whose advances didn't result in consummation. Then, what used to be a "most favored trade partner" status between Holmgren and the former Washington Capitals general manager could go up in smoke.

It still might due to the Preds' audacity in successfully conning the con man. 

Still, Homer played it cool: "We tried to add, in our minds, one of the best defenseman in the game to a good, young, up-and-coming team, and it didn't work." He also admitted he liked the defense the way it is without the addition of Weber or the return of Chris Pronger.

So Shea and David, I tip my hat in your direction and await the intrigue surrounding the Flyers-Predators December 27 matchup at Bridgestone Arena. For now, enjoy it, because tonight is your night, bro.

Tune in next July when Weberpalooza Part II can be paired up with Arnold's 1990 opus, "Kindergarten Cop."

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