NHL Free Agents: History Predicts Predators Will Match Shea Weber's Offer Sheet

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IJuly 19, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 14: Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators eyes the scoreboard during the game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bridgestone Arena on February 14, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's official.

After remaining uncharacteristically quiet for much of the offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers have made their big splash of the summer.

This year, it's a move almost unheard of in today's NHL—an RFA offer sheet.

Per TSN's Darren Dreger via Twitter:

Breaking: Shea Weber agrees to offer sheet with Philadelphia. 14 years, upwards of $100 mil. Preds have 7 days to match. Wow!!

— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 19, 2012

Weber's contract is worth a whopping $110 million and will carry a $7.85 million cap hit. ESPN's Craig Cunstance first obtained the financial details, which immediately rival the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk's salary cap-circumventing deal in 2010:

Got confirmation of salary structure of Weber's deal. Here it is: $14M, $14M, $14M, $14M, $12M, $12M, $6M, $6M, $6M, $6M, $3M, $1M, $1M, $1M

— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) July 19, 2012

The massive newsbreak puts the Nashville Predators, typically a team that operates on a budget rather than by the salary cap, in an enormous dilemma.

If they match, they'll retain their team captain and clear-cut best player for the rest of his career.

If they don't, they'll be instantly relegated from Cup contention for years but receive four first-round picks and much greater financial flexibility in return.

How will the Preds and GM David Poile handle the situation? Per Dreger, they're leaning toward the first option:

Preds will issue a statement today. Team is fully evaluating situation, but, Preds have previously indicated plan to match any offer sheet.

— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 19, 2012

Of course, the situation is by no means already settled.

Taking on Weber's deal would put the Predators' payroll at just over $47.1 million with two RFAs—Sergei Kostitsyn and Colin Wilson—still left to sign. By the end of it all, that mark could be pushing $52 or $53 million.

Could the Predators ownership group, led by Tom Cigarran, handle that expensive of a team? History says it's likely that they could.

In 2011-12, the Predators' payroll stood at $52.1 million, including $7.5 million devoted to Weber—numbers not too different from next year's projections.

In 2010-11, the Predators' payroll fell at $50.9 million, including $4.5 million for Weber—again, barely less than their 2012-13 projection.

Further, history also points to another reason why Weber could still be playing in Nashville last season—over the last 15 years, RFA offer sheets have been matched almost unfailingly.

In fact, on only a mere one occasion did the RFA's original team not retain the player, out of the eight sheets submitted over that time.

That was a whopping five-year, $20.1 million contract for Dustin Penner in 2007—and, based on Penner's recent production, we now know exactly why Anaheim let him walk.

Penner's situation was a rare one, though. Disregarding that one exception, young stars signed to offer sheets over the past decade have found their contracts matched every single time.

In 1997, the Toronto Maple Leafs offered former Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Matthias Ohlund a five-year, $17.5 million contract.

The Canucks matched.

In 1998, the recently-relocated Carolina Hurricanes offered former Detroit Red Wings' star Sergei Fedorov a six-year, $38 million contract.

The Red Wings matched.

In 2006, the Philadelphia Flyers—historically a major perpetrator of offer sheets—offered Canucks center Ryan Kesler a one-year, $1.9 million contract.

The Canucks matched.

In 2007, the Edmonton Oilers offered Buffalo Sabres' icon Thomas Vanek a seven-year, $50 million contract.

The Sabres matched.

In 2008, the Canucks offered St. Louis Blues star David Backes a three-year, $7.5 million contract—and then, one week later, the Blues offered Canucks prospect Steve Bernier a one-year, $2.5 million contract in retort.

Both teams matched.

And then in 2010, the San Jose Sharks offered the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson a four-year, $14 million contract.

The 'Hawks matched.

By now, you get the picture.

History predicts—or rather, based on the above revelations, guarantees—the Nashville Predators will match Shea Weber's 14-year, $110 million contract and retain the star for the entire remainder of his career.

But, then again, $110 million is a bit more money than history has ever before seen.

Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009. In that time, he has written more than 410 articles and received more than 640,000 reads.

Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.


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