The Shea Weber arbritration award has raised some interesting discussions in the hockey universe about the difference between making a lot of money and winning.
Naturally, every player says they want to win a Cup, but some guys' actions tend to conflict with those statements, at least on the surface.
With his award, Weber becomes the fifth-highest paid defenseman in the NHL behind Christian Ehrhoff, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith and Chris Pronger. There's no question in my mind that Weber belongs in this group as he's one of the top-5 defensemen in hockey right now. However, only he and Brian Campbell of the Panthers have a higher cap hit.
Why do I love Shea Weber so much right now? Follow the jump to see that my crush is not only beard-deep.
To recap: Weber entered restricted free agency on July 1 of this season, and the Predators elected to go to arbitration rather than try and work out a deal, ensuring that Weber was immune to offer sheets. After both sides presented their arguments (one can only assume that the Predators' main beef with Weber was how many nets they had to replace due to his slapshot and how they had to spend 1% of their cap space for his razors), he was awarded a 1-year deal worth $7.5M. After the award was announced, a press conference was held where Predators GM David Poile basically admitted that the two sides were not close on term, salary or structure.
I know it's taboo to talk in such glowing terms about a player not currently wearing the Winged Wheel. But why do I love Shea Weber? Because he wants to win, a Red Wing-like trait, and everything he's done up to this point has shown that. He could have signed a monster deal (had the Predators offered him one, which it does not sound like they did) or gone for something longer-term that offered him some security. It's not about his stats or how he's one of the best defensemen currently in the NHL, although that's one reason why I like him. I understand that there are those who believe he's not the best defenseman on his own team, but I believe Weber has intangibles like leadership that Suter hasn't necessarily had the opportunity to show yet. He's the whole package, and he's a (publicly) good guy. Consider some of the things he said yesterday after the deal was announced:
I don't see any reason why I wouldn't want to be here.
I love the city and the fans continue to support us.
I realize that those quotes are fairly cliche when it comes to professional athletes. I've yet to see a player say "the fans are jerks who never show up and the city's a dump, but they are paying me $12 million, so I guess I'll stick around." But it's important for Weber to maintain this public image as a guy who wants to stay because he's Nashville's first legitimate homegrown superstar. To lose him would be a blow to a city that is still struggling to shake the label of a "non-traditional" hockey market.
The prevailing thought about the Predators and Weber is that if they are not going to contend for the Cup, then he's going to leave for a team that will. This ties directly to the two upcoming UFAs on the Predators roster that have as much importance to the team as Weber: Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne. Conventional wisdom says that if the Predators fail to re-sign at least Suter (if not both of them), then Weber will bolt to a team that has the ability to letigimately win a Stanley Cup.
And why not? Isn't this what we want from our professional athletes? There's no question that they are paid millions of dollars, money that most of us are never going to see in our lifetimes. But we live and die with these players and become emotionally invested in how they perform, and if we see that our favourite player wants to win that badly, we can't help but respect and love the guy. That's why this entire situation has endeared Weber to me, even more so than his booming shot or his ability to grow one of the most magnificent beards this side of Chris Hollis.
The important thing for me about this whole process was that it was not Weber who initiated the arbitration. By electing to go that route rather than try and negotiate a deal, it showed that the Predators were operating from a position of weakness. If they thought they had a chance to sign Weber to a long-term deal that made sense both from a term and money perspective, they would have done so. Electing to go to arbitration told the world that the Predators did not think they could get a deal done and required the services of a third party to essentially force Weber into a contract.
However, Weber was smart in choosing to go with a 1-year deal, after which he'd be a restricted free agent, rather than a 2-year deal so he would know when he was going to enter unrestricted free agency. It's brilliant because it allows Weber to outwardly show that he's committed to the team by giving them a year to shore up their roster and make them a contender, while covertly he could potentially make more money next year either through an offer sheet or if he has an even better year than he did last season and a new arbitrator awards him a higher contract.
It's up to the Predators to do something about their roster, and nothing that Weber has done publicly has prevented them from making their team better to become a legitimate contender for the Cup. That's all Weber wants, and we should applaud him for that. He's not the bad guy in this whole situation; he's just a guy who wants what every player wants, and I love him for it.