I wrote an extensive analysis of a potential Shea Weber-to-Vancouver trade/signing/miracle last fall. Weber is a part of a very select group of NHLers – those of the franchise defenseman variety. In addition to Weber, I count four more – Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, and Ryan Suter. Erik Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo are on their way, too).

I figured it was time for an update, as the Ryan Suter departure has opened the door to this pipe dream a little bit more. From one of Weber’s agents, Kevin Epp:

“He’s still in disbelief. They were so close this year in terms of the team’s chances. They really had a shot. Shea believed there was a good chance that Ryan would stay there. So right now, Shea is still processing this news.”

Shea Weber is currently a restricted free agent. The Nashville Predators hold his rights, and if any team feels brave enough to send Weber an offer sheet, the Predators are able to match it. Weber has stated he won’t file for arbitration, and the team is unable to take him to arbitration again.

Weber earned $7.5 million last year, a contract awarded to him after he was taken to club-elected arbitration by the Predators. It was the highest single-season total ever awarded from an NHL arbitration case. It was an interesting case for a few other reasons, too. Since the lockout ended, almost 85 percent of arbitration cases were settled before a hearing. And only one other Captain had gone to arbitration since the lockout (Danny Briere in Buffalo, and he left as a free agent the next summer).

At the time, Weber was the third player to be taken to club-elected arbitration since teams were given the right to do so under the new CBA. Roberto Luongo in Florida and Alexander Korolyuk in San Jose were the others. Luongo never forgave Florida for it, eventually forcing a trade out (although he could be back there soon). Korolyuk never made it to his hearing, as he signed back in Russia first.

For the 2012-13 season, here are the levels of offer sheet compensation:

  • $1,110,249 or below – No Compensation
  • Over $1,110,249 to $1,682,194 – 3rd round pick
  • Over $1,682,194 to $3,364,391 – 2nd round pick
  • Over $3,364,391 to $5,046,585 – 1st round pick, 3rd
  • Over $5,046,585 to $6,728,781 – 1st round pick, 2nd, 3rd
  • Over $6,728,781 To $8,410,976 – Two 1st Round Picks, 2nd, 3rd
  • Over $8,410,976 – Four 1st Round Picks

Assume, for a minute, that you are David Poile. You have just lost one of your two franchise defensemen for nothing. You didn’t even get a chance to match the offer given to him by the Minnesota Wild. You are just coming off of another second round exit, in a season in which you went “all in” with several deadline acquisitions (most notably Alex Radulov from the KHL).

Your team is set in goal for the foreseeable future with Pekka Rinne, and there is a solid mix of young talent at defense and forward. However, Weber and Suter were the backbone of the team. They are arguably two of the five best defensemen in the league, and together they were simply dominant.

Rob Vollman of Hockey Abstract put together Player Usage Charts, a fantastic resource to see how players stack up when compared to their teammates and peers around the league.

When looking at Nashville’s chart, Weber and Suter’s dominance is impossible to ignore.

Player Usage Charts

They faced the toughest minutes of all defensemen and outperformed them all considerably. Vollman:

“The key to this team is the league’s arguably best top pairing Shea Weber and Ryan Suter (except rookie Ryan Ellis in 32 incredibly sheltered games), who were the only two defensemen with whom they enjoyed a possession advantage despite being the only ones who regularly faced top opponents.”

Knowing all of this, what do you do? Here are the options:

1) Sign Weber to a long-term deal

Poile needs to exhaust all avenues when it comes to keeping Weber. Offer him a lot of money, a lot of years, and any other perks he wants. He’s the Captain and backbone of the organization, and is an elite and physically punishing defenseman. The Predators may not want to pay Weber $8.5-9 million per season, but they probably would go that high if it meant keeping Weber. However, if he doesn’t want to re-sign…

2) Sign Weber to a one-year deal

This is a route Poile would rather not go, as it puts the leverage in Weber’s hands. The Predators would once again face the risk of losing a top defenseman for nothing (Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter are examples, although they did fetch a pick for Hamhuis’s rights a few years ago). The Predators could give Weber a one-year deal and convince him they are serious about winning with other transactions they make, but it would be a very risky move. Poile, usually a very risk-adverse GM, may have exhausted his risk capabilities over the past calendar year.

3) Trade Weber to the highest bidder

(Icon SMI)

Weber’s trade value is quite high, for reasons mentioned above. However, if he is traded without a contract (or with a one-year contract), the team receiving him runs the same risk of losing him for nothing as Nashville would. The Predators could demand a young top-four defenseman, a 1st round pick, and a very good forward if Weber was able to negotiate an extension with his new team first.

This situation could end up playing out very similar to Jordan Staal’s in Pittsburgh. Staal made it quite clear (unofficially) that he would only sign an extension in Carolina. Multiple teams expressed interest in him (New York and Toronto most notably), but neither club got past the ground floor of negotiations. Staal wanted to go to Carolina, and Penguins GM Ray Shero acted swiftly. He didn’t want the distraction of having Staal on a one-year deal hanging around all season, and he was able to secure a very nice return considering that he was only negotiating with one team (Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin, and a 2012 1st round pick, which the Penguins used on defenseman Derrick Pouliot).

4) Figure out where Weber wants to go, negotiate best possible deal

This is exactly what Ray Shero did with the Carolina Hurricanes. Right now, no one knows where Weber wants to go. Is it Detroit, where there is a huge hole on the back end? Would playing for a storied, Original Six franchise interest Weber? Is it Vancouver, his hometown team? The Canucks organization has never had a player like Weber, and he would be welcomed home with open arms (to say the least). How about Edmonton? Does Weber want to be a part of the youth movement?

Weber is from Sicamous, BC, a small town about halfway between Vancouver and Calgary. He played his junior hockey in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets.

Assuming Weber lets the Predators know where he wants to go, and is able to come to terms with a contract extension with that team (or at least agree on something in principle), the Predators could get a slew of assets to rebuild on the fly. They have impressive young defensemen (Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, most notably), a great goaltender, and a solid mix of forwards.

To a team like Edmonton, Weber on a one-year deal isn’t attractive. However, Weber on a long-term contract is. Would the Oilers offer up a package including Jordan Eberle or Taylor Hall? They’d be foolish not to. What could the Canucks put together? Alex Edler, like Weber, is an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s a very good defenseman, but a few levels below Weber.

Anaheim could offer up a package including Bobby Ryan, which would surely interest the Predators, who are once again in search of a dynamic top line winger.

Speculating on a potential return for Weber is a fool’s errand at the moment, as no one outside of Weber, his family, and his agents knows where he wants to play. However, if and when that news is made public, the Predators would be best served in maximizing the value of their asset. They justified keeping Suter during his last season because they had a great shot to make a Cup run. However, losing another franchise defenseman for nothing would cripple the organization. They need to let the Suter news sink in, talk to Weber, and figure out where he wants to play. If it isn’t in Nashville, it may be time to move on from their Captain.