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.