The impending NHL lockout could be a blessing in disguise for several NHL teams. Thanks to a busy summer, the Nashville Predators are not one of them. The Predators were forced open the bank account up for Shea Weber, and they lost Ryan Suter to free agency. Why would a lockout hurt them? Read on to find out.
Over the past two weeks, I have profiled five teams who have something to gain from a potential work stoppage:
- Lockout Beneficiaries, Part I: Long Island
- Lockout Beneficiaries, Part II: Philadelphia
- Lockout Beneficiaries, Part III: Vancouver
- Lockout Beneficiaries, Part IV: Dallas
- Lockout Beneficiaries, Part V: Edmonton
And I will be profiling five teams that stand to lose out, as well:
The Predators, for the second consecutive season, advanced to the second round of the playoffs in the Western Conference. They have used the on ice successes to generate interest among sports fans in Nashville, and having celebrity endorsements from Mrs. Mike Fisher (Carrie Underwood), Keith Urban, and Nicole Kidman has also helped tremendously. The Predators, as expected, were unable to keep defenseman Ryan Suter, as he decided to test the open market on July 1. He opted to sign with the Minnesota Wild, joining his good friend Zach Parise in the process. The Predators almost lost Shea Weber too, after the star defenseman signed an enormous offer sheet (14 years and $110 million) with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Although the Predators haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet, they are facing a similar predicament as the Stanley Cup champion Kings are with regards to a lockout. The Predators have been a very successful franchise in recent years, and it has translated into higher ticket sales. This past regular season, the Predators set a franchise record with 25 sellouts, breaking the previous mark of 20. Above all else, winning sells.
The Predators have gone 21-5-2 in their last 28 home games. They have sold out Bridgestone Arena for eight consecutive games, matching the franchise-long eight game sellout streak hit earlier this season (Dec.15-Jan. 7). Nashville has been one of the League’s best teams on home ice since the beginning of the 2005-06 season, compiling 180 home victories – ranking it third behind only Detroit (189) and San Jose (181) in that span. The Predators are the only team in the NHL to post at least 23 home victories in seven consecutive seasons.
With a lockout, the Predators would have to work much harder to get those fans back in the seats. For the most part, the Predators have been embraced in the Nashville community since coming into the league, but only recently has the attendance really reflected that. The biggest reason for that has been the success of the team. And the trickle-down effect has been noticeable throughout the organizaton, as well.
Of course, this is just the ticket-selling aspect of things. We’ve already heard that TV ratings are up in a big way (thanks in part to broadcasting some games into the Atlanta market), the new gold Predators jerseys have been a big hit with fans, and corporate partnerships have been growing as well.
With a building capacity of barely over 17,000, the Predators have one of the smallest rinks in the league. However, progress has been made, and the team has been making significant strides off of the ice. A lockout wouldn’t kill the momentum, but it would slow it down. The Predators biggest sports rival is the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, and they are expected to contend for the worst record in football this season. That helps the Predators in the event of a lockout, as the team could hopefully capture back most of its fans with a quick return to winning ways.
The Predators matched Philadelphia’s 14-year, $110 million contract for Weber. The contract was extremely front-loaded, as the Flyers hoped that the Predators wouldn’t be willing to pay Weber the $68 million in bonus money he is owed over the first four years. For Weber, the contract guaranteed him a massive pay day in the event of a lockout. It also is likely the last long-term deal to be signed, as the NHL is looking to put a cap on contract limits.
For this season, Weber’s actual salary is only $1 million. He will make $13 million in the way of a signing bonus (and the same holds true for the next three seasons after, as well). In the event of a lockout, Weber would be due his bonus in full, but not his salary. So the Predators would be on the hook for $13 million without receiving anything in return. And if the NHL does roll back salaries like they did in 2005, Weber’s signing bonuses would be protected. It was a very shrewd move by Weber’s agents to secure a deal that almost completely pushes all of the risk of a lockout onto the Predators.
Weber is the best defenseman in the league and the Predators really had no choice but to match the offer sheet (especially after losing Suter), but the contract was and will continue to be a tough pill to swallow for the first few years.
The lockout wouldn’t be all bad for Nashville, though (especially if the season ended up being delayed by a few months). It would give the Predators more time to groom Suter’s replacement, smooth-skating prospect Roman Josi. Josi still has a thing or two to learn (although Pavel Datsyuk routinely makes even the very best look foolish). On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag informed me that October and November are typically the poorest ticket-selling months for the Predators, as well.
It would also give them time to develop other young talent at the AHL level, including Ryan Ellis and Gabriel Bourque. These positives are far outweighed by the negatives, however, and you can bet that everyone in the Nashville organization is hoping that they won’t be missing much hockey in 2012-13.