Nashville captain Shea Weber signed a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers late Wednesday night.
As a restricted free agent, Nashville has one week to match or exceed the terms of the agreement in order to retain their captain and star defenseman. Because of the massive term and total of the proposed deal, Nashville would receive four first-round picks from the Flyers if they choose not to match Weber’s terms.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren broke through the old cudgel of “don’t do offer sheets,” a standing gentlemen’s agreement that kept owners from utilizing this completely-above-board part of the current CBA for years, and made maybe the smartest deal of the offseason.
Here’s why it’s brilliant:
1. The terms are low on AAV and heavy on signing bonuses—guaranteed money—through the first half of the contract. $68 million in can’t-be-restructured dollars, to be specific. If Nashville matches Philadelphia’s offer and then prays for the next CBA to include terms that would allow them to restructure the deal, they will be on the hook for that $68 million no matter what.
For a team like Nashville, who has recently struggled to reach even the salary floor, $68 million in just six years is a mountain of cash, making Philadelphia much more likely to hang onto Weber.
2. The potential for sign-and-trade is nearly eliminated. The Predators can’t trade Weber in the first-year of a deal that matches an offer sheet. While they could trade him (and his huge contract) the following year, the signing bonus structure of the deal that the Flyers put forth means Nashville would be on the hook for $27 million for that single year of Weber. That’s A-Rod money. That’s also not going to happen.
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reminded us that the draft picks won as compensation for losing Weber could be traded back to Philadelphia. Four first-round picks would net a nice return in any circumstance, but would it net what Nashville could have gotten in a straight-up trade of Weber? Not likely. Once again, well-played by the Flyers.
3. If you’re a fan of players getting paid, this does a few things. First, it means that another one of the NHL’s stars is getting paid like a star—finally. That the Flyers offered such a deal is another check mark in the column of “how can owners cry poor when they’re offering $100-plus million deals?” and joins the Zach Parise, Sidney Crosby and Ryan Suter deals in landing at or near the $100 million threshold in this offseason alone.
Further, if Nashville bites the salary bullet and actually matches the offer sheet, one of the perennially-poorest clubs in hockey will have become the latest to shell out a nine-figure deal. Whether that hamstrings their ability to sign other players in the future is inconsequential. The NHLPA will look at that fact and contend this: “if even the low-spending, small-market guys can offer $100 million, why should we accept an 11 percent reduction in our share of league revenues?”
The answer is, they won’t. Owners will have one less leg to stand on.
And here’s why it’s sadistic:
1. Having one less leg to stand on doesn’t mean the owners will become any more inclined to see players’ side of things. There’s almost no instance in which the owner’s group will collectively look at player salary structures and be okay with it. The reasons are twofold:
1. Teams like Nashville, Phoenix and New Jersey literally do not have the kind of money to continue complying with the current salary floor and cap-ceiling spending, and
2. Teams like Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal—teams who make plenty of money no matter what—will gladly accept salary rollbacks, even if they could comfortable stomach a salary increase of any amount.
NHL owners are very good at making money, if not in hockey then elsewhere, and it goes against a very basic financial instinct to say, “Sure, pay them what they think they’re worth. We’ll be healthy no matter what.” There’s no way the owners are going to break rank and make salary concessions, unless doing so is a unanimous decision amongst all the owners.
In spite of monster offseason expenditures, the Flyers, Wild and Penguins will all be lined up on the side of salary rollbacks.
2. Cry poor, spend rich. It’s what deep-pocketed owners have done whenever the option has been made available to them. Whenever a front-loaded, big-money contract is handed out to a franchise-caliber player, 29 owners will cry that it is impossible to compete when teams are handing out such deals.
Whomever can make that deal, will, then stamp their feet and cry poor whenever it’s someone else’s turn to offer a retirement contract.
3. What will be most hilarious is to watch Flyers owner Ed Snider and Predators Holdings LLC Chairman Thomas Cigarran on the same side of the CBA bonfire when it comes to dealing with the NHLPA.
Behind closed curtains, Cigarran must be furious with the Flyers. His team has to match one of the largest proposed contracts in NHL history or risk losing their captain at the cost of four unproven assets in the form of draft picks (when the teams were reportedly working on trades that would have sent NHL assets Nashville’s way).
Whether Weber sticks with Nashville or not, the deal puts the Predators in a very hard place, and it’s a great example of how this CBA negotiation is more about owners-vs-owners than players-vs-owners. However, when Cigarran and Snider face the player’s union, they’ll be hand-in-hand in crying poor against the 57 percent player salary precedent.
If there’s one thing that will galvanize a splintered owners group, it’s the notion that they should continue to pay their players what the players believe to be fair market value.
Fans of Eastern Conference teams not named Philadelphia fear what the Flyers will become if they land Weber, but given the greater circumstances, they should be more concerned about who Weber will be golfing with during the lockout.