For the Philadelphia Flyers, having a future Hall of Famer on their backline in their recent past was a blessing and, more recently become something of a curse.
Providing production in all aspects of the game and infusing his team with edgy style of play and attitude, the Flyers remember well the level of contribution they had from defenseman Chris Pronger.
Now with his career likely drawing to a close due to concussion related symptoms, the Flyers were left looking for a “Pronger level replacement.”
They felt they found such a player in Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber.
Completing the 2011-2012 campaign, Weber finished sixth amongst defenseman in scoring with 19 goals and 49 points. His offensive performance belies a tough and nasty style of play would have fit in seamlessly with the Flyers style of play.
With the Predators warning all possible suitors that if an offer sheet was signed by Weber, they would match it, the Flyers attempting to engage Predators general manager David Poile with discussion as to what it would take to acquire the restricted free agent’s services.
After trade demands reportedly included “off limits players” including center Sean Couturier and forward Brayden Schenn, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren decided to offer Weber a 14 year, $110 million offer sheet with, shall we say, a creative structure.
The offer sheet (guaranteeing $27 million in bonuses paid within a calendar year) seemed to create a real conundrum amongst the Predators ten person ownership group as to whether or not they should. Could their finances handle such a contract when they drew $26 million at the gate during the 2011-2012 season.
The possibility seemed very real that the Flyers would, in fact, get their man.
But the opportunity to make a franchise statement, to themselves, to Weber, to their players and their fan base proved to be the tipping point upon which the decision was made. On Tuesday, the Predators announced that Weber would be staying in the Music City.
The Predators kept their word.
Shea Weber now owns the second largest contract in NHL history. He took the opportunity to cash in under the current CBA provisions and remains the face of the Predators franchise, potentially for the remainder of his career.
• Make no mistake, the Flyers know they failed to acquire what could be described as their ideal defenseman. Few NHL defensemen carry the number of tools to work that Weber does. Howitzer shot from the point, crisp outlet passing, excellent positioning, crushing body checks, and just the general level of intimidation he emanates would have made life near Ilya Bryzgalov’s crease would have created problems for opponents and a little more peace of mind for the Flyers goaltender.
• Weber stays west…at least for one calendar year. One of the Flyers’ objectives this offseason was to ensure that if they were unable to acquire a player, they did their best to use their financial might to ensure that other Eastern Conference teams wouldn’t be able to get the player that they were pursuing. Saw that with Suter’s signing in Minnesota and Weber’s staying in Nashville.
• Much has been made of some of the comments by Weber’s agents Kevin Epp and Jarrett Bousquet before the Predators matched on Tuesday, viewing the team as “a rebuild.” Now they’re left in the apparently awkward position of having to emphasizing why their client is happy to be returning. The view from here is that they engaged in “agent-speak” trying to tell the media how much their client enjoyed what Philadelphia offered. In the end, they got their client paid. If Weber plays up to contract standards, his agents’ comments will be long forgotten.
• The Flyers have now gone 0 for 3 in acquiring high level free agents this offseason (Parise, Suter, and Weber). Add to the mix the New York Rangers acquiring RW Rick Nash in a blockbuster trade, there is cause for concern that Philadelphia’s defensive units may have difficulties matching up against them.
• What remains in the upgrades department for Philadelphia? The Flyers continue to monitor veteran right wing Shane Doan from the Phoenix Coyotes. In the event he decides to leave the desert, what would be the asking price for the 35 year old? While he’s consistently over the 20 goal mark for most of his career, any contract in excess of three years is fraught with risk. At this point, most trade conversations with other teams seem to begin (and end) with forwards Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. If the Flyers weren’t willing to part with either of them for Weber (and they probably shouldn’t), then you can pretty much scratch adding a defensemen like Phoenix’s Keith Yandle or a young power winger like Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan off the offseason list.
• Would San Jose’s Dan Boyle ($6.66 million salary cap hit for the next 2 seasons) be a short term possibility if he’s on the market? At 36 years old, he remains one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL (nine goals, 48 points), but with two years remaining, what would the Sharks asking price be? Much like Weber, likely to be too high.
• The Flyers defense, while not having that high end Pronger-type blueliner, remains a solid unit. The biggest change going into this season is with the acquisition of Nicklas Grossmann near the trade deadline and the trade of forward James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn, the Flyers have more pronounced physicality. However, how good the transitional game will look without a Matt Carle-type of defenseman in the mix remains to be seen. So a step forward in one department and a possible step back in another.
So while there is time remaining for Philadelphia to add players to improve their overall offseason lot, there isn’t a lot of it. But perhaps standing pat and letting their younger players have a greater say in the team’s fortunes is the right path.
In the wake of “Nay on Shea,” it could be.
Anthony Mingioni covers the Philadelphia Flyers and the National Hockey League for Sportsology.
You can follow him on Twitter: @AnthonyMingioni or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
©2000-2012 Sportsology. All Rights Reserved.