Making Sense of the Flyers’ Shea Weber Offer Sheet
By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)
In 2011, it was June 23 when the Philadelphia Flyers dropped their bombshell on the NHL.
They waited until July 19 before unleashing a similar seismic blast in 2012.
Early in the morning, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the Philadelphia Flyers had signed Shea Weber, the Nashville Predators’ all-star defenseman, to a 14-year offer sheet worth $110 million. Because Weber is a restricted free agent, the Predators will be allowed one week to match the Flyers’ contract offer. If they choose not to match, Weber will become a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Nashville recently lost Ryan Suter, Weber’s fellow all-star defenseman, to the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent. According to Dreger, Poile had been actively shopping Weber in the trade market for days, with the Flyers, the New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings, and the San Jose Sharks all involved in discussions. However, Nashville general manager David Poile has repeatedly stated that he would match any Weber offer sheet.
Poile now must weigh the benefits of keeping his star defenseman under contract against the risks of signing him to an enormous contract in a small market franchise.
Paul Holmgren, on the other hand, has his own motivations for the move. Three classic quotes will help to explain the bold general manager’s thought process.
Quote #1: The best defense is a good offense.
Following Suter’s departure, Weber’s agent made his client’s emotional state very clear: shock.
“He’s still in disbelief,” Kevin Epp said, according to ESPN.com.
After losing Suter and receiving no compensation in return, Poile needed to make a decision regarding Weber’s status. If Poile would be unable to sign Weber to a long-term deal, he would risk losing yet another star defenseman to unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, for no return.
So according to Darren Dreger, Nashville began to shop Weber this week. While Philadelphia was in the running, they were competing with fellow big market teams, including their Atlantic Division rival, the New York Rangers.
The Flyers had entered a bidding war for one of the league’s best defensemen. And if they balked at including a player like Sean Couturier, for example, they risked watching Weber being moved to the Rangers. Or even worse for Philadelphia, the Penguins, who proved with their pursuit of Zach Parise in free agency that they were aggressively attempting to improve their team.
Signing Shea Weber to an offer sheet makes these scenarios impossible.
Now, Weber will either return to Nashville, or relocate to Philadelphia for the next 14 seasons. If Nashville matches the Flyers offer, they are not permitted to trade Weber for a full season, according to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. And considering the nature of the Flyers’ offer sheet, as reported by Nick Kypreos and explained by Tyler J. Altemose of The Hockey Guys, Nashville would be trading Weber after paying him $27 million dollars.
It is theoretically possible that Nashville could move their star after such a substantial financial commitment. But it’s not likely.
By extending an offer sheet to Weber, Philadelphia has effectively frozen out their competition. In addition, they seemingly protected their most highly valued assets – young forwards Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn – and still have a very legitimate chance of acquiring the defenseman that they covet.
The Flyers are now concerned with only one party: the Nashville Predators. The other 28 teams in the NHL are non-factors.
Quote #2: Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.
On May 10, at his end-of-season press conference, Paul Holmgren commented on the status of pending UFA defenseman, Matt Carle.
“If Matt wants to be here, we’d like to have him back, I don’t see any reason why we can’t work out a deal,” Holmgren said. “Could we get him under market value? I think we probably could.”
Later that day, Dustin Leed of The Hockey Guys reported that both Matt Carle and his agent were very optimistic regarding the chances of Carle re-signing with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s our intention to try and work with the Flyers and get something done,” agent Kurt Overhardt said. “We think the club feels the same way. There is plenty of time and it’s something we are going to work on.”
On June 18th, Paul Holmgren again commented on Carle.
“I have kept in contact with both Matt and his agent,” Holmgren said. “I am fairly certain that we will get him signed.”
But on July 4th, Matt Carle instead inked a six-year, $33 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. At the time, it appeared to be an oversight on the part of the Flyers. How could they allow a player who was apparently willing to return to Philadelphia below his market value to leave the franchise?
In addition, would a team like Philadelphia, perpetually against the salary cap ceiling, really enter the 2012-13 regular season with upwards of $7 million in cap space, not even accounting for the likely move of Chris Pronger to long term injured reserve?
The Weber news offers some clarity to the situation.
The Flyers left themselves with just enough cap space to send a gigantic offer sheet to Weber, with enough of a financial commitment to give Nashville pause on matching, while also meeting the standards of legality in the post-Ilya Kovalchuk contract world.
Suddenly, allowing Carle to leave seems less of an oversight on Holmgren’s part, and more of an adjustment of priorities. The Flyers wanted Weber, and were willing to let Carle leave in order to have a real chance at acquiring him.
Quote #3: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Restricted free agency always comes with the risk of an offer sheet. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is very clear: “Any such Player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an [Standard Player Contract] with any Club.”
However, NHL general managers have long declined to take advantage of offer sheets. Due to an apparent “gentlemen’s agreement,” GMs hesitate to sign RFAs to offer sheets, apparently concerned with angering fellow members of the general manager fraternity.
This morning, Paul Holmgren had no such reservations.
Holmgren assessed the situation, and came to a conclusion that the rewards of sending an offer sheet to Shea Weber far outweighed the risks.
The first potential reward is simple: Shea Weber could potentially become a Philadelphia Flyer. But the offer sheet also would prevent any rival team from acquiring Weber.
The risks? Alienating Poile, for starters. But 28 other NHL teams still exist beyond the Flyers and Predators. Holmgren will not run out of trade partners.
The contract length is also a risk. But Weber is 26 (soon to be 27) years old, in his prime, and one of the league’s top defensemen. He is also an aggressive, mobile, shutdown defenseman with a powerful power play point shot – in other words, the perfect replacement for Chris Pronger. The contract is a risk worth taking for a Stanley Cup contender.
Finally, there exists the risk of losing roster players as a result of the contract. Jakub Voracek is a still-unsigned RFA, and could be signed to a retaliatory offer sheet by Nashville in response to the Weber contract. And even if Voracek is signed, the Flyers may need to move another roster player to stay under the cap.
Losing Voracek would be difficult to swallow. Still, when weighed against the acquisition of Shea Weber, Holmgren likely views Voracek as expendable, as he rightfully should.
Philadelphia will now play the waiting game until they learn whether their bold gambit will pay off.
Regardless, it was a risk worth taking.