Monday, July 30, 2012

Weber's long-term presence extends beyond his on-ice play

The Nashville Predators made what is unquestionably the biggest hockey transaction in the history of their franchise last Tuesday when they decided to match the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet between the Philadelphia Flyers and Shea Weber. In doing so, the Predators sent a message not only to Weber, but to the rest of the NHL: Nashville is committed to winning the Stanley Cup.

By locking up Weber to a long-term contract, the Predators have put themselves in a position to be a consistently competitive team for years to come. Sure, signing arguably the best defenseman in the league for essentially the rest of his respective career is good enough in itself. However, Nashville's long-term commitment to Weber could pay huge dividends to the franchise in a number of different ways.

On August 5, 2005, Paul Kariya became the first big name free agent to sign with the Predators. In many ways, that day was the beginning of a new era for Nashville. Prior to the Kariya signing, the Predators had made the playoffs just one time. The infamous lockout that had caused the complete cancellation of the 2004-2005 NHL season had just ended and the sport of hockey, particularly in Nashville, needed a boost. Kariya was that boost for the Predators.

Since that time, Nashville really hasn't been much of a player in free agency. Of the 37 players that made an appearance in a Nashville uniform during the 2011-12 regular season, only Francis Bouillon, Jack Hillen, Jerred Smithson, Niclas Bergfors, Zack Stortini, Kyle Wilson and Chris Mueller originally came to the Predators by way of free agency. The other 30 players were either drafted by the Predators, acquired through a trade or acquired via waivers.

Nashville now has the building blocks to attract other big name free agents. Weber and superstar goaltender Pekka Rinne have both signed a long-term contract with the Predators. As Ryan Porth of brilliantly illustrated, Weber could be a great recruiting tool for the Predators. Nashville has never really been known as a "desitination" place for NHL players. It's always been a stop along the way. Now, with Weber's long-term commitment, Nashville becomes a more attractive option for other big names around the NHL.

Secondly, Weber gives the Predators that iconic figure. The Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Washington Capitals have Alexander Ovechkin. For the past 20 seasons, the Detroit Red Wings had Nicklas Lidstrom. Now, the Nashville Predators have Shea Weber. He is the face of a franchise that has been on the rise for the past few seasons. Weber is Nashville's Captain and locking him up for the next 14 years is a huge public relations plus for the Predators.

Weber has not only become just the face of hockey in Nashville, he's become the face of the Nashville sports scene in general. He is the prominent professional athlete in Music City. When people think of Nashville as a sports city, Weber will be one of the first names that are mentioned, much like it was during the glory days of the Tennessee Titans with Steve McNair and Eddie George.

However, perhaps the most important repercussion in Nashville's decision to match Weber's offer sheet is the fact that it allows the franchise to continue to grow and build on the progress that it has made over the last few seasons. Had the Predators failed to match Weber's offer sheet, it's fair to say that the Predators would have been in a rebuilding mode. It's hard enough trying to recover from losing Ryan Suter. If Nashville had lost Weber and Suter in the same off-season, there would have simply been no way for them to recover on the ice for this upcoming season and maybe beyond.

Now that Weber is in place for the long haul, David Poile and the Predators' ownership group has the opportunity to build around two elite NHL players toward a common goal that they haven't shied away from. Nashville is commited to winning the Stanley Cup, and they now have a player locked up for the next 14 years that can help make that goal a reality.

(Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua)

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