Weber's arbitration victory puts pressure on Preds

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber celebrates teammate Joel Ward's third period goal against...

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber celebrates teammate Joel Ward's third period goal against the Anaheim Ducks during Game 5 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey playoff in Anaheim, California April 22, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)

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, Last Updated: 3:16 PM ET

TORONTO - Talk to anyone who's been around pro sports long enough as a player, executive, or media member for that matter, and you'll find that arbitration is a very sensitive topic. It evokes negative connotation for two reasons. One, it tells the world that traditional contract negotiations have failed and two, it is a process that is inherently adversarial.

From the players point of view, they must sit with their agent and explain to a third party why they're worth a higher amount of money, while the general manager sits at the other side of the table revealing all his players faults in an attempt to get a financially favorable ruling for the organization.

It's a dirty procedure that has left many relationships between player and GM soured or broken because of the sometimes hurtful or damaging things that are said, but in the case of the Nashville Predators versus Shea Weber, finding anything negative to say about their All-Star defenseman must have been impossible.

When all was said and done, an arbitrator awarded the 25-year-old a record $7.5 million (U.S.) for the upcoming season on Wednesday. And considering Predators GM David Poile came in with an offer of $4.75 million to the $8.5 million put forward by the Weber camp, it was a clear win for the player in this instance. Poile however, maintained his composure and framed the arbitration award as recognition of how highly regarded Weber is among the elite defenseman in the league.

"Shea's value and his recognition have been there in the last couple of years," said Poile in a post-ruling conference call. "First all-star team this year and second to Nicklas Lidstrom in the Norris voting, so today's award is certainly reflective of his value to the Predators and his worth in the National Hockey League. So congratulations to Shea."

Poile took the high road by congratulating his player, but this wasn't the way he would have preferred things to play out. Electing to go to arbitration was a way to ensure he could protect Weber from any potential offer sheets while they negotiated a new long-term deal, but as the process played out it was clear the two sides were too far apart.

"We just couldn't quite agree on the term, the length, or the structure, so we just didn't get it done," said Poile. "The process was the process, arbitration wasn't the preferred route to go, but what is done is done and it is over with."

The deal will make Weber the fifth-highest paid defenseman in the NHL next year and will require the Predators to pay him at least that amount the following season when they will have to tender a qualifying offer at that same salary. He becomes a free agent in 2013 and it is conceivable he could get a further pay raise, something that will be very tough for Nashville to accommodate considering they operate on a budget well under the $64 million dollar salary cap.

For now, Weber is signed for another year, but to sign him to a long-term deal, the Predators will have to show him they are committed to winning.

"He is all about competing for the Stanley Cup," Poile said. "He's been a winner at all levels and his goal, as is the Predators' goal, is to win a Stanley Cup. We would certainly have liked the certainty to have our captain sign a long-term contract, but that's not to say he's not going to, it offers up a challenge, it certainly keeps me and the rest of our organization, keeps us focused if you will, with our eye on the ball on what we have to do."

What they have to do is hold on to key roster pieces that are already contributing to the forward progress of the organization. Doing that would go a long way in showing Weber they are serious about contending. Players like goaltender Pekka Rinne and defenseman Ryan Suter, who played huge roles in the Predators successful 2010-11 season, will have to be re-signed after they become free agents after the 2011-12 campaign.

The Predators have one year to figure out if they are going to actively pursue a championship and take all the steps necessary to do so, or sit back and let financial constraints pick apart a group that is starting to show some serious promise. Fans in Nashville don't want to watch a team that bleeds talented free agents every summer and you can't blame them. If the organization fails to capitalize on their recent momentum by signing Weber and other key players, the future of hockey in Nashville could be in jeopardy.


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