The Shea Weber Negotiations: Holmgren vs. Poile
Courtesy of Mike Strasinger/AP
By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)
Let the staring contest commence.
With an offer sheet for Shea Weber now on the table, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and Nashville Predators GM David Poile are locked in a game of chicken, with one player’s contract, the immediate future of one franchise, and the long-term health of another franchise all hanging in the balance.
Before the early morning of July 19, Poile’s motivation for placing Weber on the trading block was the desire to receive actual compensation in return for his star. It was his fear that Weber would depart Nashville at the end of the 2012-13 season as an unrestricted free agent that drove the move. But with an offer sheet in place, Poile now has a simple solution to that problem: match Philadelphia’s offer, and have Weber under contract for the next 14 seasons.
Of course, that would involve paying Shea Weber $110 million over 14 seasons. More importantly, it would involve paying Weber $27 million dollars within one 365-day period, due to the frontloaded offer sheet that Paul Holmgren devised.
For any franchise, that would be an exorbitant amount of money. But for a small-market team like Nashville that generated only $26 million in ticket revenues during the entire 2011-12 season, it could be financially impossible.
So now, Holmgren and Poile return to the bargaining table.
Shea Weber can not be traded now that he has signed an offer sheet. However, the concept of Shea Weber can still be traded.
If Weber’s offer sheet is not matched, Philadelphia must relinquish four first round picks to the Nashville Predators. As a result, these four picks have now become stand-in value for Shea Weber, as the player himself cannot be traded.
Darren Dreger reported yesterday that Poile’s asking price prior to the offer sheet was Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and an additional roster player for Weber. Poile will likely claim that, despite the offer sheet, his demands have not changed.
Poile can assure Holmgren that Nashville will match the offer sheet, and that finances are not an issue. However, Poile may be willing to pledge to not match the offer sheet, guaranteeing the Flyers their acquisition of Weber – but only if Holmgren will send a substantial package of players to Nashville in exchange for their newly acquired set of draft picks.
But the offer sheet gives Holmgren a new power. The ability to call Poile’s bluff.
Before Weber had signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia, Holmgren had little leverage. If he refused to move Couturier or Schenn or other desirable assets for Weber, Poile could easily demand a similar package from another team, and possibly receive it.
Now, Holmgren can channel his inner Clint Eastwood: You say you will match my offer sheet? Go ahead, make my day.
In addition, Weber’s camp gave Holmgren additional leverage through their repeated assertions that Weber wants to be a Philadelphia Flyer. While neither Weber nor his agent has used the nuclear option – promising to demand a trade immediately after the $27 million is paid prior to start of next season – Weber is making it clear that his preference is to leave the Predators and join the Flyers.
Holmgren understands that the nature of the offer, plus Weber’s newly-announced desire to switch teams, makes Nashville’s position in negotiations tenuous at best. If Nashville was truly guaranteed to match any offer regardless of finances, David Poile would have released a statement assuring his fans that Weber would not be leaving. Instead, he was non-committal.
“We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea.”
Poile’s usage of the word “intention” is telling. The Nashville GM made it clear that while the team will do everything in their power to match the offer sheet, it is far from a foregone conclusion.
Holmgren knows that Poile may not be able to match the offer sheet. However, without inside knowledge of the Predators’ internal finances, he cannot know for sure. And with Poile leaving the door open today for continued negotiations, he is making one thing clear to Holmgren: meet my demand, and you can guarantee yourself Shea Weber.
Holmgren could cave. He could send Sean Couturier, the 19-year old center who shut down Hart Memorial Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin in a playoff series, to Nashville. He could include Brayden Schenn, only one year removed from “best prospect in hockey” status.
Or Holmgren can call Poile’s bluff, dare Poile to sign Shea Weber to a contract that could place a franchise already having financial difficulties in truly dire straits, and gamble that Poile will return to the table with a more palatable offer because Nashville can not afford Weber’s contract.
Of course, if Poile lowers his demands, it functions as a de facto admission that Nashville will be unable to match the offer sheet. This raises the question: why would Holmgren offer anything at all, unless he would prefer to reacquire a few of his first round draft picks?
Maybe Poile admits that signing Weber will stretch Nashville’s finances to the limit, but informs Holmgren that they will deal with the monetary fallout unless Holmgren offers some sort of value (not Couturier or Schenn), in order to give Poile a tangible return to sell to his distraught fanbase.
This staring contest could easily last until the final minutes of next Wednesday’s deadline. But which GM will blink first?