(Far from) A Nashville No-Brainer
I think David Poile is one of the best general managers in the NHL. I’d go so far as to suggest that Poile more than anyone else has been responsible for the survival of the Predators in Nashville. At the time the league chose to expand to Nashville, I thought it was the most bizarre place any sports league had ever decided to establish a franchise. It is one thing to put a hockey team in a non-traditional market like Phoenix or Atlanta because they are huge cities. But Nashville? This is a small market for any major league sport, let alone one with little familiarity with the game.
But David Poile managed to build a quality organization and a hockey team that won a lot of games while spending very little money on players. While he has not been able to grow significant revenues, he has managed to build a passionate fanbase. That fanbase is still far too small, but revenue sharing, generous subsidies from the community and the team’s success has prevented the franchise from becoming a money pit for ownership. That’s great work for a zombie franchise in Gary Bettman’s hockey league.
Unfortunately, Poile does not have a formula that can convert an organization that does not generate significant revenues into a team that can legitimately contend for a championship. He can afford to ice a decent team – perhaps even a good one – but that will never be good enough for the best players. They want to win more than anything. That’s why the Predators could not re-sign Ryan Suter and it is why Shea Weber decided to accept a lucrative offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. Weber is making it clear that he does not believe that Nashville will ever challenge for the Stanley Cup. That’s why he wants out.
The Flyers offer is indeed beyond the Predator ability to pay. The cap hit hardly matters to them, but the actual cash they would have to lay out over the first six years of the deal – $68 MM – doesn’t make any sense for a team that generates about $25 MM in ticket revenue a year and maximises revenue sharing by keeping the payroll low.
All that said, I don’t have any doubt that David Poile will match the offer, and Shea Weber will be a Nashville Predator next season. In fact, I think Paul Holmgran did David Poile a favour by making the offer. Absent an RFA offer, Poile and Weber would have agreed to a one year contract and David would have spent most of the season trying to extend Weber. Since Shea wants out of Nashville, the effort would have failed and Poile would have been faced with the prospect of trading his superstar next season at the trade deadline.
Now? Poile does not have to worry about trying to sign Weber. He knows exactly what it will cost him to keep Weber over the long term – too much – and exactly what it will cost him to keep him for next year. Poile has to find an extra $6.5 MM in his budget to keep Weber for next year. (Last year Weber cost $7.5 MM. Next year he will get $14 MM.) That will not be easy, but it is surely doable even if it means cutting talent elsewhere and even if it means that the Preds ice a poorer team next year.
What does Poile get for the extra $6.5 MM? First, he gets to keep Weber for one more year and he does not have to worry about finding a trade in the middle of next season. If he can pull a couple of other rabbits out of a hat, he may be able to ice a competitive team yet again. Second, he – and Weber – can pretend Shea may not be traded next summer. Third, he gets to auction off the Weber contract next summer and it is guaranteed that he will get far more than four draft picks for him, particularly if the new CBA eliminates lifetime contracts.
About the only rub in the deal is the prospect of a lockout. It’s one thing to pay Weber twice what you would like to pay for a season, but it is another to pay Weber not to play and Shea will get his $13 MM signing bonus even if the season is cancelled. Predator ownership will have to step up to that risk.
But this is really a no-brainer for Nashville. It’s worth way more than $6.5 MM to have Weber for one more year and to maximise the return in a trade. David Poile would match the contract in a heartbeat. If the Predator’s let Weber go to the Flyers, the ownership is making a mistake.
Update: I stand corrected on the cost of matching for Nashville. As commenters make clear, this is far from a Nashville no-brainer.