David Poile is widely regarded as one of the best in the sports management business over the last thirty years, nominated for the NHL’s General Manager of the Year award for all three years of its existence.
Poile’s prowess, as well as patience, in the draft has built Music City into a hockey town, a contender in the West, with its main pillars a product of home-grown talent.
Now one of those cornerstones has been stripped away.
Ryan Suter’s decision to play in Minnesota for presumably the rest of his career, written on the wall for the rest of the hockey world to see, surprisingly left Poile “disappointed” and somewhat mystified, likewise with Shea Weber. Now with Suter gone and Weber a pending restricted free agent, the Predators situation can become dire in a hurry, not totally independent of some decisions by one of the league’s best executives.
Big-name players leaving Nashville in free-agency is nothing new. Dan Hamhuis became a hot commodity for the Predators and left for Vancouver before the 2010 season, and Marek Zidlicky was dealt to Minnesota after the 2007 season in which he led the Preds’ defense in assists and points.
Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen were moved in 2007 before they hit the market for a first round pick, Nashville’s own pick they’d sent to Philly for Peter Forsberg’s short stint. That pick became Jonathon Blum, who has 15 points in 56 NHL games since then and remains in the AHL.
Despite these historical difficulties, Poile had much more success in recent seasons, bringing in players like Mike Fischer and signing franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year extension.
But even that contract, at $7 million per season, sparked talks around the league about where Poile would find the money to re-sign both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber long-term without hamstringing his roster for the next decade.
Things didn’t get any easier when a protracted arbitration process, which never ends without sour feelings on both sides, left Weber a one-year, $1.75 million dollar deal that set up another restricted free-agent negotiation for this summer, when Suter would be free.
The inability to sign Suter during the season planted the seeds for this mess, and now Poile finds himself in serious trouble dealing with Weber, too. Obviously with Suter gone, Poile will have no financial restrictions in keeping Weber. The issue will be whether Weber, who was disillusioned to be abandoned by his partner, wants to stay in the city where only Rinne, Martin Erat, and David Legwand have stood the test of time.
Just as important is that Shea Weber is in almost anyone’s eyes the most valuable, well-rounded, complete defenseman in the game with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. In the last four years, Weber has 74 goals, ten more than any other defenseman in that time, to go along with a +29 rating during that stretch. He had 10 goals and 12 assists on the powerplay. Nashville scored 54 powerplay goals and Weber was on the ice for 47 of them.
So if Ryan Suter can earn the same $7.5 million cap hit that Weber made last season, anything in the $9-$10 million dollar range is by no means unreasonable for Weber to demand. While Poile would pay Weber anything he asked, if Weber decides to move on, Poile will have to behave as Penguins’ GM Ray Shero did with Jordan Staal: offer a long-term deal and if rejected, trade immediately. Afterall, Poile can lose his two best players for nothing in the course of a year.
But Weber can’t wait for the start of the season, or even the end of the summer, if that’s the route he seeks. With the current CBA set to expire on September 15th, and provisions likely to be added to eliminate the front-loaded mega-deals landed by Suter in Minnesota, Weber should be eager to sign his long-term deal this summer.
With that in mind, how is it that Weber hasn’t been signed already in the week since Suter departed? Poile has nothing else on the agenda and no more important point on his shopping list. If it’s that Weber isn’t eager to stay, there will be new pressure on Poile to get the max return for Weber, in a market where GMs may be willing to let the clock wind down to a new CBA with a more affordable salary structure. Who’s the pressure really on?
In any event, an off-season losing both Suter and Weber is devastating to the Preds no matter who comes in a return package. Perhaps one can never get “fair value” if forced to move one of this generation’s best. But with Poile’s deadline decisions this past February, there is added pressure.
Poile put all his eggs in this year’s playoff basket, knowing it may be his last with Suter wearing gold. With that in mind, he brought in Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Paul Gaustad, overpaying a first-rounder and two second rounders. He also brought back prodigal son Alexander Radulov.
The Preds fell flat in the second round, Kostitsyn proved a distraction and is back on the market, and Radulov earned a one-way ticket back to Russia for his useless, partying ways.
Poile’s moves didn’t work, Suter is gone, and now Poile will be desperate to convince Weber to stay just to prevent his Cup contender from taking a massive step backwards into mediocrity.
If Weber forces a trade, Poile will have to pay the piper for the winding road that brought him to this point. But that won’t guarantee the Music City won’t be very, very silent.