By Thomas Waind
I am back from two weeks in the wilderness, “camping” some people may call it. It was a huge week in the NHL and I was trying to keep up with the flurry of activity via my Blackberry. But finding service as well as keeping my phone perfectly still when I found a bar proved to be a challenge. But the news I received was well worth the wait. The biggest trade of the summer of Nash to Broadway went down. I also followed the saga of the biggest contract of the summer with a watchful eye. When all was said and done I was surprised, delighted and confused to see Weber back in the Nashville and the contract it took to keep him there.
Shea Weber is arguably one of the best defenseman in the NHL. He has been a Norris trophy candidate for the past two years, is an Olympic gold medalist and is the captain of a team who likely would have never made the playoffs let alone advance past the first round if not for him. He boasts one of the hardest slap shots in the game. This year he tied Erik Karlsson for the league lead in goals for defenseman with 19 goals and led all defensemen with 10 power play goals. He is also a work horse who isn’t afraid to bang bodies or give up his own body as his 26:09 TOI/g, 177 hits and 140 blocked shots in 2012 would attest to. To top it off he has been named to the NHL first All-Star Team in both of the past two seasons. He has quite the track record for a man of just 26 years old.
A player of his caliber is very rare so when given the opportunity to acquire one, money seems to be no object in the NHL and most sports for that matter. This is a league where the salary cap and cap floor makes the gap between a good and great team very slim as we saw with the eighth seeded LA Kings taking everybody by surprise to capture the Stanley Cup. They may have been considered underdogs by many, but if you look closer they had the 7th largest payroll in the NHL dolling out $63,671,201 to their players.
So when the cap frugle Nashville Predators were having trouble signing RFA Shea Weber to a new deal, the Philadelphia Flyers rolled the dice. They offered the all-star defenseman an offer sheet of $110 million over 14 years and if the Preds had turned it down, the Flyers would have found a replacement for injured top defenseman Chris Pronger.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Nashville matched this monstrous offer. But was it really fortunate for Nashville? Sure they lock up an elite defenseman and captain while telling a just-growing fan base “we aren’t throwing in the towel just yet”. The other star defenseman, Ryan Suter left town for Minnesota and high scoring Russians Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov took their bad blood elsewhere. So there is now a dire need for young guns like Colin Wilson, Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum to step up so the Preds can contend in 2013. But more importantly they must fill the seats of Bridgestone Arena if they want to stay in the Nashville while the city of Quebec lurks in the shadows.
But the sheer length of the 14 year deal has the very real possibility of back firing. Contracts of such length have a history of turning sour. The first team that comes to mind is the New York Islanders who thought that they could gain an edge in the 2001-02 season by locking up star sniper Alexei Yashin to a decade long worth $71.5 million. Yashin would only reach 30 goals once after signing this contract and was bought out by the Islanders in 2007-08 and will have to be paid by the team $2,204,000 until 2014-15 against the cap. (See Yashins full contract details at http://capgeek.com/players/display.php?id=1162 ) Also despite the good intentions to lock up the 2000 first overall pick long term, the 15 year $67,500,000 signing of Dipietro in 2006-2007 may be one of the biggest mistakes in Islanders history because of his many injuries and sub par play when healthy.
These massive contracts have a tendency to eventually alienate players from their team and fans when there is any decrease in performance. We have seen this countless times, such as when the Rangers buried former superstars Wade Redden and Chris Drury in the minors to never be seen again. Many others from Cristobal Huet to Sheldon Souray have gone through these struggles. Roberto Luongo has been thrown under the bus for his recent lack of playoff success coupled with the sudden emergence of Corey Schneider. When you add Luongo’s massive contract to the equation, they suddenly have less teams in the mix for the 4 time all star and a fan base who can’t wait to unload the former captain.
Some recent contracts with the potential to blow up are the Wild duo of Parise and Suter who are second tier players being paid like they are Norris and Hart Trophy winners. Also locking up the recently injury-riddled Sidney Crosby to 12 years has the potential to be brilliant or Yashin-like. Crosby is at a crossroads of his career where from here on out could be a Mario Lemieux, or have the wasted potential of a Lindros or Kariya.
You can not possibly blame players for accepting these deals. If somebody says your worth $100 million who are you to turn it down? Instead owners and GM’s have been driving up the market with these ridiculous deals that don’t seem to benefit anything but the player’s bank accounts. CBA talks are heating up and the 10 year deal is a hot topic and it will be interesting to see who will win the clash of the greedy corporations testing the greed of the players. If things don’t start to progress further we may not even see a 2013 season. But on a brighter note congrats to Weber on a much deserved pay day!