WeberWatch finally has some concrete figures as arbitrator weighs each side

For weeks months, the Nashville organization and their fans have had one thing on their mind: sign captain Shea Weber for as long as possible. As the season ended, both sides were adamant that a deal would get done; when the Predators filed for arbitration, it was merely a procedural move as they continued to negotiate with the face of their franchise. Fast forward two months and the tight-budgeted Predators not only reached the deadline with Weber—but they went ahead with a dangerous arbitration hearing with the Norris Trophy candidate.

What in the world could cause the two sides go through with the process that is universally regarded as a poisonous experience for both the team and the player? Money of course.

After the two sides were unable to reach an agreement without the help of an arbitrator, reports surfaced of the numbers being thrown around by each side. Both Elliott Friedman and Darren Dreger confirmed that the numbers weren’t even in the same ballpark—Weber’s camp presented a case that asked for $8.5 million for next season; David Poile and the Predators asked for a one-year deal worth $4.75 million. And people wondered why the two sides weren’t able to reach an agreement.

Some quick elementary math tells us the median between the two sides would put next year’s salary in the $6.6 million range. Not surprisingly, Weber’s case to make $8.5 million next season would be stronger than the Predators position at $4.75 million. If Weber were to make $8.5 million, he’d be the highest paid defenseman in the league and fourth highest paid player in the league. The numbers are high—but it’s easier to make than argument than to say he should make Kevin Bieksa money. He’s a better player, who is more important to his team, who is entering his prime.

Is Weber the most valuable defenseman in the league? Maybe. Maybe not. But he’s in the conversation.

Of course, the arbitrator will rule somewhere between the two extremes. Unlike Major League Baseball’s process that forces the arbitrator to choose one side or the other, the NHL arbitration process allows a judgment that compensates fair market value. Since the process does not force the independent third-party to choose an argument, both sides will negotiate to the extreme. Poile and the Predators don’t think that Weber is worth $4.75 million and it’s doubtful Weber’s agent thinks he’s worth $8.5 million. But within the context of the negotiations, both sides present their excessive cases and the arbitrator will rule in the middle.

Citing an NHL source, Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period says the final judgment will fall between $6.5 and $7 million—with Weber’s side presenting the stronger case. The source also added that arbitrators don’t like to set the market. Then again, somewhere in Los Angeles, Dean Lombardi and Drew Doughty are eagerly awaiting the arbitrators’ award. Not that this will affect the standoff in California and create a viable comparable or anything.

No matter what happens, the Predators lose in this battle. The last thing they wanted to do was to go through with an arbitration hearing with the most important person in their organization—let alone sign him to a one-year contract. For those keeping track at home, that means Weber, Pekka Rinne, and Ryan Suter will all be free agents next summer. For a team that is operating on a strict budget, this is the worst case scenario.

Now we wait for the arbitrator to make their decision between now and Thursday afternoon.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson