Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shea Weber is Why Vinny Lecavalier is Still Here

The Philadelphia Flyers' 11th all-time transaction involving the Nashville Predators was the signing of restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet worth a reported $110 million over 14 years.

It also may be the last one for a very long time. 

That move, engineered by then-GM Paul Holmgren, was aimed at gaining back the losses of Chris Pronger to injury as well as free-agent blueliner Matt Carle who signed on with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and occurred two years ago last Thursday.

It gave the Preds braintrust the unenviable task of deciding whether or not Weber was valuable enough to retain at the risk of their long-term salary-cap structure, and it gave them only a week to do it.

On the Flyers' end, Holmgren gambled that the Preds couldn't possibly risk retaining Weber for that very reason, and seemed perfectly content to cough up four first-round draft picks in consecutive seasons for the chance at landing the closest living facsimile to Pronger.

According to a Frank Seravalli piece in the Daily News on July 19, 2012, which cited a report from Nick Kypreos of Canada's Sportsnet, the Flyers structured the deal in a manner which effectively hamstrung their former favored trading partner, front-loading the deal to the tune of $14 million a year for the first four seasons of the pact and $12 million for the next two thereafter.

Three weeks earlier, Poile witnessed Ryan Suter walking out the door and signing with the Minnesota Wild in the second of twin mega-deals, and, faced with seeing his defense decimated, he remained steadfast in stating he'd match any offer to keep Weber.

With sands from the hourglass quickly slipping downward, one day shy of that seven-day window, Nashville GM David Poile, backed by the club's CEO Jeff Cogen and President Tom Cigarran, moved to match the offer sheet and retain the skater who was most responsible for keeping the franchise in the thick of the Western Conference.

In a statement issued shortly after the announcement of Weber's retaining two years ago today, the organization explained its rationale:

"The decision to enter into the largest contract in franchise history was made by all parts of the organization, including ownership, hockey operations and business operations.

As the organization analyzed the overall situation and worked toward a conclusion, the decision boiled down to three questions:
 
  - Was Shea Weber the individual that this franchise wanted to lead our team, a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup every year, for the next 14 years?
    - Would matching the offer sheet be in the best long-term interest of the team and organization?
    - Would a decision not to match the offer sheet send a negative message to current Predators players and other NHL organizations, a message that the Predators would only go so far to protect its best players and be pushed around by teams with "deep pockets?"
 
The answer to each of the above questions is clearly “yes.” The organization spent the last several days analyzing all aspects of the offer sheet, from economic implications to the impact on the team hockey operations puts on the ice.


Most importantly was the reaction to whatever decision the organization reached and the impact it would have on our fans, sponsors and marketing partners. We wanted to insure that our decision reflected not just the feelings of these groups but also conveys a strong message to them that our actions would speak for us and demonstrate our commitment to them. It was absolutely essential that they understand and believe that we are doing everything possible to ice a Stanley Cup competing team each and every season.
 
With this decision behind us, we continue to focus on our mission: Develop Bridgestone Arena into the number one sports and entertainment facility in North America with a Stanley Cup-winning Nashville Predators team as the centerpiece. With Shea Weber in the fold for the next 14 years, we are closer to this mission, and will continue to contend for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis."

In business and in life, relationships are built on trust. In his zest and zeal to grab the best player available and fill a need, Holmgren effectively sprayed anti-aircraft fire and drilled hundreds of holes into whatever respectful relationship Nashville's front office had with Philadelphia

This was the same Poile who acquiesced to taking a washed-up Danny Markov in the Summer of 2005, and who graciously gave up four players (Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell) in return for a shot at Cup glory with a near-washed-up Peter Forsberg through a pair of deals four months apart in 2007.

Poile entered into these agreements, and the others -- dating back to a simple cash transaction for Sergei Klimentiev in January of 1999 -- knowing the Flyers front office is nothing short of a viper pit. He'd been the GM of the Washington Capitals for more than a decade when both clubs were fighting to replace the Islanders as the class of the Patrick Division, then fighting off the remaining clubs to stay at the top. He has a pretty good idea of how Bob Clarke and Holmgren operate in the Flyers mold.

All's fair in wheeling and dealing when two gentlemen looking to upgrade their team pick up a phone, but if one side feels badly burned about a move made in bad faith, it can corrupt things far into the future. Word gets around quickly when it's a group of only 30, and it's telling that the Flyers and Predators have not made a single transaction in the two years since the Weber debacle when there was a period of four deals between the clubs in less than three years split between the Clarke and Holmgren eras.

Vinny Lecavalier might have been a signing directly attributable to Peter Laviolette's presence here last Summer, and Laviolette's presence as the Predators' new head coach, coupled with the club's lack of scoring presence even after the James Neal trade, might mean that Lecavalier would be a great candidate to head to the Music City. Social media had him all but packed up and ready to move once the Mike Fisher injury was announced, but in the real world, where your word is bond and either breaking it or circumventing it to one's overwhelming advantage has consequences, that means (bleep) all.

Why should Poile stick his neck out any further for another highly-paid forward after Weber, now clocking in at a hefty $7,857,143 cap hit and $14 million salary, is responsible for a little over 22 percent of Nashville's current allotment this season? Why should he do it with Philly just because it might be a good fit for a player who might be useless here?

Same goes for any of the other 28 General Managers who consider Poile a close ally and can't stand to deal with the Flyers because of it, even if they think they have the Orange and Black over a barrel. Lecavalier's cap hit is $4.5 million for the next four years, his salary is $6 million this season before a slow decline, and you know other teams expect the Flyers to ask for the galaxy and all its brightest stars in return -- whether it's actual bodies or high draft picks. 

Looking back to the Summer of 1997, Clarke and the Flyers essentially turned the Tampa Bay Lightning to mush with their offer sheet in Group II free agency to acquire Chris Gratton. Giving up the draft picks was nothing to an established "large-market" franchise, and the return of Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis couldn't plug the leaks that sprang from losing Gratton, the Bolts' best player. 

Clarkie did it again in September of 2006, artificially driving up Ryan Kesler's value by procuring an offer sheet for the Vancouver forward at one year for nearly $2 million which the Canucks chose to match in protest.

Shifting gears back into the present, it's not hard to figure out why Poile isn't chomping at the bit to have a confab with new free-thinking Flyers GM Ron Hextall about gaining some veteran help up front. The sins of those who came before have stained the purchasing power of the Stanley Cup champion and Manitoba native, as far as Nashville is concerned.

Matching Weber's offer sheet ended up becoming an unintentional master stroke of revenge for Poile.

Faced with no other option once the gambit failed, Holmgren has been forced to keep Kimmo Timonen around longer than he should have, necessitated the signing of Mark Streit last July, then permitted the logic of a trade for and the undeserved contract extension given to Andrew MacDonald. The wailing of Flyers fans for the health of Pronger, the return Carle and the lamentations of failing to develop their own homegrown defensemen must be music to Poile's ears.

There may be those who think that Hextall hasn't done much during his first offseason in the captain's chair, but as long as he's not engendering the displeasure of another club's front office, and endangering future trade prospects out of avarice, he's way ahead of the game.


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