The Nashville Predators’ press release yesterday called it “the most important hockey transaction in franchise history,” and it was.
The press release, of course, refers to Nashville’s re-signing of All-NHL defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110-million contract. Earlier in the week, Philadelphia signed Weber to an offer sheet with the same terms, and Nashville ownership had spent a week pondering whether to match before it officially did on Tuesday. Weber’s re-signing means that the Predators can likely keep one of hockey’s best players for the rest of his hockey career.
The press release cited four reasons for entering into the new contract, which were:
1. They’d like to compete for Stanley Cups, and they feel Weber is the guy to lead them there.
2. The contract is in the best long-term interest of the franchise.
3. Not matching the offer sheet would send a “negative message” to NHL players that they weren’t willing to compete for elite talent.
4. To send a message to their fans and sponsors that would demonstrate an organization-wide commitment to competitive hockey.
The Predators say that fourth reason was the most important – and I agree.
First, the Predators could hardly afford to lose another elite player after losing Ryan Suter to Minnesota a couple weeks back. Even with signing Weber, the franchise has taken a step back; losing Weber on top of Suter would have amounted to three or four giant steps in the wrong direction.
Second, the Predators needed to strike while the iron is hot. I’m not sure that the passion for the Predators has ever been higher in this city – but that kind of fan fervor doesn’t always last forever.
To see what could happen to the franchise, look across the river to the Titans, who once captured the love of our town like no sports team before or since. But years of key free agent departures of beloved players, mass player arrests, and mediocre teams has visibly eroded support to the point that instead of having thousands of people out on the streets trying to scalp tickets to sold-out games, there are thousands of empty seats instead.
The Predators have done a splendid job in the community and in keeping their players out of trouble. That’s added a lot to their appeal. But let’s not pretend that the fan support would be at this level if the Predators hadn’t become a playoff-quality team.
Weber, too, should win big in the end with his contract. Fans love star players, but the elite players who play their entire careers in one city become sports gods. The St. Louis Cardinals have statues of Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith outside their ballpark; Albert Pujols was just as good as either, but I doubt he’ll be similarly immortalized one day since his choosing to become a Los Angeles Angel.
Weber, an elite player as well as a captain at only 26, now has a chance to become Nashville’s first statue-worthy guy. Eddie George wasn’t great for quite long enough. Steve McNair might have been, but the way he died revealed too much about who he really was as a man. Bruce Matthews would have fit the bill on all counts, except that he did most of his notable work as a Houston Oiler.
Here’s hoping it happens one day. As for now, Nashville can celebrate a victory on all counts.