If Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators follow this summer’s pattern – a pattern that even maintained itself with similarly high wattage star Zach Parise – then they’re just going through the negotiating motions right now. The only case that actually went to arbitration was Chris Campoli’s, which really doesn’t count all that much since the Chicago Blackhawks were prepared to walk away from his award regardless of the amount.
That being said, today marked a rather important day in the process for Weber and the Predators. The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper reminds us that both sides are required to provide written briefs 48 hours before a scheduled arbitration hearing, which means that the Predators and Weber’s representatives must have done so this morning.
So, what does Weber’s side think and how much will the Predators argue for? Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck provided a hearty analysis of the restricted free agent comparables* for Weber, pointing specifically to where Dion Phaneuf ranked in the minds of many hockey people way back before he became so expensive that the Calgary Flames had to trade him. (Predators fans must hope that the comparisons will stop there, though.) Hoag thinks that the Predators might offer Weber $6.5 million per year.
When balancing out this list of comparables, I could see the Predators coming in at a figure of $6.5 million annually. While there are some aspects of Phaneuf’s performance that were superior to Weber’s during the years leading up to his current contract, Weber does benefit from additional factors such as his being named team captain last summer, and his growing star power around the league due to his performance at the 2010 Olympics and at the World Championships.
On the other hand, the fact remains that while he has been among the top defensemen in a number of areas, he has yet to take the top spot, which argues for keeping him below what Stamkos just received.
Perhaps Weber’s side will fall on the higher side of many peoples’ estimates by asking for $7.5 million, then?
Buddy Oakes thinks that both parties will make a near-last minute deal with an average between $7 million and $7.25 million per year for four or five years, which seems like a reasonable compromise for both sides. Weber would get paid handsomely (but not outrageously) while still setting himself up for one more big in-his-prime deal when it would expire. The Predators would lock up the face of their franchise for a few of his unrestricted years.
It’s important to note a point we’ve been hammering on quite a bit lately: it’s not just about keeping Weber in the fold. The Predators are a budget team with three potential budget-busting players set for near-future paydays: Weber, fellow defensive stud Ryan Suter and Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne. Suter and Rinne would qualify for unrestricted free agency if the Predators don’t sign them before July 2012. Those two won’t be easy to sign if they keep Weber, but re-signing the team’s renowned defenseman would be a clear sign to the rest of the “Big Three” that they intend to be a genuine contender going forward. (Click here for a roundtable discussion regarding which of the “Big Three” might be most expendable.)
Now that you’ve read a few guesses on what Weber and the Predators think he might be worth, how do you feel? Should he just sign a one or two-year deal and make Nashville prove that they can compete? Should he take less money and more years to help the team build a stronger squad? Is he worth $6.5 million-$7.5 million or perhaps more? Let us know in the comments.
* – Want more comparisons that might put Weber’s value (and the tough negotiations) in further context? Jeremy Gover also provided his own breakdown at Section 303.