Weber, Predators In Stalemate: What Does This Mean for The Flyers?

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By: Tyler J. Altemose (@TJamesAltemose)

Earlier this week, in a twist of Chris Nolan-like proportions, it was discovered that Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators have yet to formalize their agreement in a contract (SPC). The Predators had previously matched the Flyers offer sheet of 14 years, $110 million on July 24.

Over at Predators Insider, Josh Cooper of the Tennessean explained that Weber’s agent, Jarrett Bousquet of Titan Sports, is still negotiating with the Club on including a no-trade or no-movement clause as part of Weber’s gargantuan agreement. Last Wednesday, Dirk Hoag of the SB Nation blog “On the Forecheck” ran the story. Last night, Dustin Leed of The Hockey Guys caught wind of the article through Twitter. Now that Flyers fans have caught wind of this twist in events, they’re looking for answers.

Nineteen days later, there is still no agreement. Why? And what, if anything, does this mean for the Flyers?

I decided to scavenge the CBA for an answer. And while there are still some questions looming due to this being an extremely unusual case, I believe I have made the situation a little simpler to understand.

To begin, a refresher on what the CBA says about the offer sheet process:

10.3 Offer Sheet and First Refusal Procedures. (b) If the Prior Club gives the Restricted Free Agent and his Certified Agent, if any, notice … that it is exercising its Right of First Refusal … within the seven (7) day period, such Restricted Free Agent and the Prior Club shall be deemed to have entered into a binding agreement, which they shall promptly formalize in an SPC, containing: (i) all the Principal Terms…; and (ii) such additional terms as may be agreed upon between the Restricted Free Agent and the Prior Club. The Prior Club may not Trade that Restricted Free Agent for a period of one year from the date it exercises its Right of First Refusal.

Upon Nashville’s matching of the offer, Shea Weber became a Predator. The offer he signed with the Flyers (14 years, $110 million) became the principal terms of his now-current agreement with the Predators. What is interesting to note, however, is that upon matching, the Predators and Weber are permitted to add additional terms to the agreement before formalizing it in an SPC.

And hence, the holdup.

But what exactly is an SPC? And why hasn’t one been enforced yet?

Simply put, an SPC is a contract. SPC literally stands for Standard Player Contract. As far as its enforceability is concerned, the CBA states:

11.3 Validity and Enforceablility (of SPCs). Except as expressly set forth in Section 11.5 below, no SPC shall be valid or enforceable in any manner whatsoever unless and until it has been filed with Central Registry and approved by the League or the Arbitrator.

At this point, we understand that the terms of Weber’s offer sheet with the Flyers became the terms he now has with the Predators. But the CBA allows Weber and the Predators to add other terms before formalizing the offer sheet into an SPC–in this case, a no-trade or no-movement clause. It appears as if Weber is refusing to sign until the Predators add such a clause.

But here is where things get tricky. Weber is still a Group 2 Restricted Free Agent (RFA). This means that a special set of rules applies to him, notably a December 1 deadline to sign:

11.4 Signing Deadline for Group 2 Free Agent. An SPC for a Group 2 Free Agent will be rejected and will be null and void … if it is not signed and filed with Central Registry by 5:00p.m. New York time on December 1 in the then current NHL Season.

This means that if Shea Weber doesn’t sign by December 1, he can’t play the entire 2012-13 season.

Furthermore, even if the Predators do give Weber a no-trade or no-movement clause, it cannot go into effect until the 2013-14 season when he turns 27 and is eligible to become a Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA). Adding to the complications, if a limited no-trade or no-movement clause is provided and Weber is later traded, the clause will not carry over unless agreed upon by the acquiring club.

11.8 Individually Negotiated Limitations on Player Movement. (a) SPCs containing a no-Trade or a no-move clause may be entered into prior to the time that the Player is a Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agent so long as the SPC containing the no-Trade or no-move clause extends through and does not become effective until the time that the Player qualifies for Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agency. If the Player is Traded or claimed on Waivers prior to the no-Trade or no-move clause taking effect, the clause does not bind the acquiring Club. An acquiring Club may agree to continue to be bound by the no-Trade or no-move clause… .

As if there aren’t enough wrenches thrown into the mix, there is also the potential lockout of players on September 15, if the NHLPA and NHL cannot come to an agreement on a new CBA.

I have seen several claims from Flyers fans that perhaps Weber is holding out for a lockout to occur, hoping that a new CBA will provide some sort of loophole to allow Weber to leave the Predators organization and join another–preferably one in southeastern Pennsylvania.

I have two good reasons why that won’t happen, and why that isn’t the case.

First, Shea Weber signed the offer sheet with Philadelphia not solely because he wished to become a member of the Flyers, but to strike a deal (and a long one) before a new CBA could be enforced. Because a new CBA may cap the term of this contract, it would negatively affect his ability to qualify as a UFA (which in turn disallows him from adding a no-trade or no-movement clause to his deal), and would severely roll back his pay.

For Shea Weber, the worst thing that could happen is a lockout followed by the enforcement of a new CBA before he signs the contract.

Even if a new CBA doesn’t contain all (or any) of those terms which would negatively affect the deal for Weber, he and his agent are smart enough not to run that risk. And speaking of his agent, he’s the other reason why Weber isn’t holding out for a lockout and a new CBA.

Weber’s agent makes a commission based on the amount of Weber’s new contract. As of now, he stands to make a lot of money on this deal. If a new CBA rolls back Weber’s pay, that commission shrinks significantly. Naturally, they intend to push the envelope with Nashville until the last possible minute. But at the end of the day, the Predators can afford to play the waiting game (or so they hope). Weber, however, cannot.

Much has been said by Weber and his agent about where Weber prefers to play. Much has been alleged. Frankly, it is all heresay and is irrelevant to the real issue at hand.

One other possible avenue of resolution I’ve heard floated around is for Weber to file a grievance. The CBA defines a grievance as “any dispute involving the interpretation or application of, or compliance with, any provision of this Agreement, including any SPC.” However, only two parties can file a grievance: the NHL and the NHLPA, and neither the League nor the Players’ Association is going to file a grievance for a case like this one. The term being discussed is an additional term not necessary to the completion of the SPC.

As the midnight hour approaches on August 13, Shea Weber and the Predators remain at a crossroads. Monday marks 20 days since the Predators matched the offer sheet Weber signed with the Flyers. Weber is looking for a no-trade or no-movement clause, and Nashville clearly does not want to provide one.

On Friday, Josh Cooper of the Tennessean wrote in his Predators Insider column that the Predators are having their annual “Skate of the Union” town hall meeting at Bridgestone Arena on August 20. It is uncertain which players will be in attendance.

Wouldn’t it be something if the Predators and Weber were simply waiting until the Skate of the Union to announce that Weber will be spending the remainder of his career there?

I know some Predators fans who would surely appreciate that scenario. I know a lot more Flyers fans who would not.

UPDATE: A question I’ve seen asked several times that I haven’t addressed in this story is this: “What happens with Weber and the Predators if the SPC isn’t signed by December 1? Does he become a UFA next season? Can the Flyers get him?”

According to the terms of the current CBA, if Weber doesn’t sign his SPC by December 1 that means he is simply ineligible to play; it doesn’t not mean he and the Predators cannot sign and formalize the SPC after that date.

As far as his player status is concerned, that remains to be seen. According to the terms of the current CBA, he remains Predators property through July 24, 2013, deal or no deal.  Weber turns 27 today (August 14), which means that effective July 1, 2013 (the beginning of the new league year) he is eligible as a Group 3 UFA. Keeping in mind that he is property of Nashville through July 24, 2013, that conceivably means that effective July 25, 2013, Shea Weber will be a UFA if he does not sign the current SPC. However, all of this assumes the rules of the current CBA being enforced.

If a new CBA is authored and ratified before all of this happens (as it likely will be), and Weber has yet to sign his SPC, then the rules of the new CBA will apply, whatever they may be. As I addressed earlier in the article, if the new CBA rolls back player salaries, mandates a certain playing career length before a player can qualify as a UFA, and/or caps the length of the deal, then Weber will likely remain property of the Predators as an RFA whether he has or has not signed the SPC. The reason for this is because the timing of him signing his SPC determines which CBA dictates the rules of his deal. If he signs before the new CBA is ratified, the current one will dictate the terms of his SPC. If not, the new one will.

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