Shea Weber

Shea Weber, Predators currently locked in a ‘stalemate’ regarding a new contract

Ever since people really started asking questions, a deal between the Nashville Predators and their all-world defenseman Shea Weber seemed like an expensive formality. Both sides have been saying all the right things while other teams cross their fingers that a few cracks would form in that foundation.

For the first time, there’s a sign of issues in the discussions, although one must wonder if it’s a legitimate sign of worry or just another negotiating ploy. The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper reports that Weber’s agent Jarrett Bousquet said that the talks have hit a “bit of a stalemate” lately, which is a little worrisome when you consider the fact the Predators-elected arbitration hearing is set for August 2.

Here’s what Bousquet told Cooper.

“We’ve had long talks; we seem to be coming to a bit of a stalemate. We still have time to work before the system kicks in,” Weber’s agent, Jarrett Bousquet said. “Shea would like to be a Predator. He enjoys playing there with a team that’s on the cusp of doing something great.”

The two sides can agree to a deal sometime before the hearing and are also allowed to come to terms on an agreement before the arbitrator’s decision comes out (according to a thorough rundown by Dirk Hoag). Unlike in most cases, the Predators cannot walk away from the decision because they nominated Weber for arbitration, though.

Weber has the power, even though he’s a restricted free agent

Weber can decide if he wants a one or two-year deal. That could be important because Weber won’t be an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2013. With that in mind, he might elect to go with a two-year deal to generate some stability and set himself up for a gargantuan contract in 2013.

Anyone who doubts Weber’s value (and the Predators’ desperation to keep him) would be kidding themselves, but there’s all kinds of thorny issues to deal with. From convincing Weber that this team can truly compete for a Stanley Cup to resolving how many of his unrestricted free agent years he’d be willing to give up, it’s even more complex than finding a satisfying salary mark.

Weber isn’t the only big-name player the Predators need to re-sign soon

Unfortunately, Weber is just one of three developing problems for the Predators to solve in the near future, as Elliotte Friedman points out in his 30 Thoughts column. Weber’s partner in crime Ryan Suter and Vezina Trophy runner-up Pekka Rinne are both primed for unrestricted free agency once the 2011-12 season ends. Friedman estimates that the trio could cost between $18.5 to about $21 million to retain; that’s a massive amount for any franchise, let alone a budget-conscious organization such as the Predators.

(We’ll get into a little more discussion of which of the Predators’ trio is the most expendable a little later on, though.)

Predators GM David Poile must keep the structure of his entire franchise in mind even if he’s taking a “one deal at a time” approach with the three standout players. That’s probably why this is such a difficult process in the first place. It’s not just about retaining Weber, a crucial player to the Predators’ attempts to solidify themselves as an elite team. It’s also about surrounding Weber with the kind of players who will give him (and Predators fans) a reason to believe that a second round appearance is far from the ceiling for this group.

Weber’s deal will have a far-reaching impact on the Predators franchise (not to mention other deals, including that of fellow restricted free agent star Drew Doughty). We’ll keep you up to date as that intimidating salary arbitration deadline rapidly approaches.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.