GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 27: Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators awaits a face off against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 27, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Can the Nashville Predators compete with the big boys in the NHL? Well, here's their chance to prove it.
On its surface, Wednesday night's news -- first reported by TSN ace Darren Dreger -- that Shea Weber agreed to a 14-year offer sheet with Philadelphia looks awful for Nashville. After all, the Predators were talking about signing Weber long-term, and after losing Ryan Suter to the Wild on July 4, the Predators can ill afford to lose Weber, too.
However, I think we'll find out at some point in the next seven days that this isn't a bad thing for Nashville at all.
First off, unless the contract has too much upfront money for small-market Nashville to handle, the Predators have to match. General manager David Poile has no choice.
All the talk about building a Stanley Cup contender in Nashville is proven to be nothing but that -- talk -- if the Predators accept four first-round draft picks from the Flyers and let team captain Weber go to Philly. With Suter already gone, the Nashville blue line can be salvaged if they keep Weber in the fold.
As of this writing, I don't have any idea how Weber's deal is structured, but I have to assume it is front-loaded, similar to the contracts Suter and Zach Parise inked with Minnesota. Since there was no opportunity to match Suter's deal (if you believe Poile), we don't know if Nashville could afford the kind of upfront cash required to do so. However, Poile talked after the fact about wishing he'd been given a chance to match. Doesn't that make you think they have the necessary cash in Nashville?
They'd better. No one is going to argue that Suter was a bigger loss than Weber would be, but to lose both in the same month would be potentially catastrophic. Nashville has played what's practically a "plug and play" type of game up front, losing some seemingly-significant pieces over the years and somehow improving or remaining steady despite it. It's a dangerous way to handle the defense, however.
The Predators don't have enough flash up front to get in a bunch of shootouts with teams. They have to grind games out and play smart in their own end. They also have to be strong on the power play, and the Nashville power play starts with Weber, and that lethal bomb he possesses.
As for Philadelphia, this is probably a signal that Chris Pronger's career is over, even if the Flyers aren't prepared to say exactly that. I don't think this is a newsflash to anyone, as Pronger obviously suffered a pretty serious concussion, one that he hasn't really recovered from in any way. If the Predators choose not to match, general manager Paul Holmgren has made an impressive play for the best defenseman who was available, and he's gone a long way toward replacing virtually everything Pronger can do, even the locker-room leadership stuff. If that's not enough, we know Weber brings the point shot, skating, physicality, smarts, and snarl.
Of course, we may never see how good a fit Weber is for Philadelphia. First off, we'll find out if Nashville can compete with the big boys, or if they'll take the draft picks and run.