Shea Weber Stays With Nashville Predators As Philadelphia Flyers Head Back To Drawing Board

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 8: Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators shoots on goal against the San Jose Sharks in the first period of an NHL hockey game at the HP Pavilion on March 8, 2011 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Shea Weber is sticking in Nashville after the Predators matched his 14-year offer sheet. The Flyers took a big swing and missed, and now that leaves them back where they started.

When defenseman Shea Weber signed that mammoth offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers late last week, I opined that the Nashville Predators had virtually no choice but to match.

It seems Predators ownership agreed.

"We did not take or make this decision lightly, and we recognized the many ramifications it would have," (chairman Tom) Cigarran said in an email to season ticket holders. "Retaining Shea sends a powerful message to our own players and potential players that Nashville is a team that is in the hunt to win and this is a desirable place to play! Other teams will now know the Predators will do everything possible to retain its own star players and cannot be viewed as a franchise that can be raided."

The 14-year contract included what many thought were financial terms too unfriendly to Nashville, most notably $56 million in salary and bonus payments over the first four years.

Weber undoubtedly remains the Predators' captain, and he will play big-time minutes on the Nashville blue line, especially with Ryan Suter gone to the Minnesota Wild.

While this is good news for the Predators, there is already chatter that Weber will eventually be traded by the Predators. They can't trade him for a year, but it already sounds as if next summer could be the Summer of Weber, even though he won't be a free agent.

That said, the Flyers would be wise to move on, whatever that entails.

Philadelphia is facing the loss of star Chris Pronger due to concussion-related issues that shelved him for almost the entire 2011-12 season. They tried to sign Suter and Zach Parise, to no avail. Their pursuit of Weber failed. They lost Matt Carle to the Lightning.

Should GM Paul Holmgren wait out the season and push hard for Weber next summer? Maybe. But that doesn't solve the blue line problem this coming season.

Short term, the Flyers need big seasons out of guys like Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossman, who combine for a 2012-13 cap number of $7.1 million, even though neither player projects as a top-pair defenseman. 37-year-old Kimmo Timonen will be the leader of the group, but he can't do it all himself.

Weber was such a tantalizing target for this team. He fills virtually every void left by Pronger's absence -- leadership, scoring, skating, size, snarl, etc. -- and at age 26, there was no risk at all in signing him to the deal the Flyers constructed for him. Sure, it was a lot of cash up front, but he was worth it, given everything he's capable of doing.

There isn't another player like that on the free agent or trade market, so Holmgren is left with a huge void to fill on his blue line, and plenty of spare cash. That doesn't dictate that he throw the cash at a player who won't fill the hole adequately. Instead, it means the Flyers are hardly done being a contender for top free agents.

The hope for Philadelphia now has to be that their expensive defensive corps can hold up enough that goalie Ilya Bryzgalov doesn't melt down under a siege of shots from opponents.

Of course, there was no trade for Weber, which means Holmgren didn't have to part with any of his talented forwards to close this deal. So Philly is well-stocked up front, with the likes of Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Scott Hartnell, and others.

So maybe the Flyers can just win a bunch of slugfests this season.

I'm certain that won't be happening in Nashville, where Weber helps the offense and the power play, but his retention was all about making sure Pekka Rinne didn't have to deal with too many grade-A scoring chances. GM David Poile may need to upgrade his team's scoring at some point, but he has to feel better about his defense than he would have if Weber had left.

Nashville fans should feel better, too. Obviously, things could change, but the long-term commitment shown by their favorite hockey team's management could be a sign of good things to come, and it beats having to deal with losing both members of the team's top defensive pairing within a month.

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