With the business side of hockey out of the way, Shea Weber is happy he's free to focus on one thing now: winning.
One day after the Nashville Predators chose to match the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet the defenseman signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, Weber said Wednesday he is excited to know he'll likely be spending the rest of his career with the organization that chose him in the second round of the 2003 NHL Draft.
"It's a very exciting time for the Predators organization and myself," Weber said on a conference call. "It's a big step in the right direction. Ownership showed a commitment here in the last week. Now going forward I can focus on the important stuff, getting ready for the season and getting ready to go this year."
Weber, a restricted free agent, signed the largest offer sheet in NHL history July 18, giving the Predators until July 25 to match. Nashville general manager David Poile had said all along the franchise would match any offer sheet that came Weber's way, and the two-time Norris Trophy runner-up said he was happy to see it live up to its word.
"They said from the beginning if there's an offer sheet they would match it," Weber said. "They were challenged and they stepped up -- that's what we were looking for. It's exciting."
The contract reportedly will pay Weber $27 million in salary and bonuses in the first year and $68 million in the first four years. Predators chairman Tom Cigarran said Wednesday at a rally outside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville that there was a number the Predators would have walked away from, but said he believes they can afford to pay Weber while fielding a Stanley Cup-contending team.
"It wasn't a question on if we could come up with the money the first four years," Cigarran said. "It was, are we compromising our ability over time to pay players market value? … There is a number that we would have said, 'No, we can't do it.' But pretty quickly Jeff [Cogen, CEO], David [Poile] and I concluded we could do it and we'd still have a team that could be an elite franchise."
Now that he's signed for the long term, Weber, who turns 27 on Aug. 14, said he plans on keeping the Predators among the League's elite with his play and his powers of persuasion.
"It's definitely a thing that I'd love to help out with," Weber said of recruiting players. "I've talked to plenty of guys … and guys say how much they love Nashville. If there's any possibility that we can get guys in here, I know there's not a huge free-agent crop this year, I don't know what it's like next year, but whether it's through a trade or whatever, we need to find a way to get guys [to] want to come.
"I think everyone that has played [in Nashville] knows how great the city is and they talk about that, they love the atmosphere at the rink and everything about the city. Now that I’m there hopefully for the rest of my career, we can … David said he felt like he was handcuffed because nobody would commit long-term. Now there [are] guys committed long-term and there's no more excuses that way. We can try to recruit guys and tell them all the good things we've got going and what we look forward to in the future."
Among the first targets for Weber could be Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan. Through his agent, Doan has expressed a desire to stay with the Coyotes, but their ownership situation might force the forward to look elsewhere for stability. If that happens, Weber said he'd do what he could to convince Doan to join him in Nashville.
"He's the kind of guy that anyone would love to have on their team," Weber said. "He's a great guy off the ice, a great leader. His veteran presence in the locker room would help a lot of us. His play on the ice speaks for itself. That would definitely help our team going forward."
One player Weber couldn't persuade to stay, however, was Ryan Suter. Weber's longtime defense partner signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild on July 4. Weber said the two have spoken, and that he's happy for his friend. Though he knows the hole Suter leaves behind is big, Weber said he believes there are players on the roster able to step into that spot.
"Now it's time for someone on the back end, someone young -- [Roman] Josi, [Ryan] Ellis, [Kevin] Klein -- to step up and play more minutes," Weber said. "I think we've got guys capable of doing that. It's an exciting time. We're a young team, but we're very talented and we're not far away at all."
Coach Barry Trotz said if training camp were opening now, he would give Josi the first chance to play alongside Weber. The 22-year-old had 16 points in 52 games last season, his first in the NHL, averaging 18:23 of ice time per game.
"If we were going to start today, Roman Josi would move up to that spot next to Shea -- for a number of reasons," Trotz said. "I think he does a number of things Ryan Suter did at the same age. I think Roman is an up-and-coming player. Roman's ability to move the puck, skate with it, complements Shea's veteran presence, his physicality, his big shot. He catches a lot of minutes against top guys. I would probably say that would be my first play at training camp, Roman lining up with Shea, and that would be a pretty strong twosome."
Trotz said Weber's return, combined with other moves the Predators have made in the wake of last season's 104-polnt regular season and spot in the Western Conference semifinals, has him feeling very positive about his team heading into 2012-13.
"I'm as excited about this team as any team we've had," Trotz said. "Starting out last year, where we were at the start of last year and where we are at the start of this year, it's not even the same position. We're so much farther ahead with our young guys. We ended up with 104 points last year with a team at the start of the year that I didn't think had enough there. And as the team grew, we added guys like Paul Gaustad … Hal Gill, those type of people. And the improvement of the young guys like [Craig] Smith, [Colin] Wilson, Gabriel Bourque up front, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, this team is really set up long-term and really in a good position. … We're in a go-forward mode to win a Stanley Cup."
The linchpin is Weber, and now he'll be under contract until he's 41 years old.
"I'm comfortable staying there for the rest of my career," Weber said. "We've made this clear to the organization. We're trying to get a no-movement clause because we're committed to staying there. Now that this is over with, it's a place I can see myself for the rest of my career."
Poile often has said one of the regrets of his long management career was when he was GM of the Washington Capitals and the team chose not to match an offer sheet defenseman Scott Stevens signed with the St. Louis Blues in 1990. The Capitals were greatly diminished by losing Stevens, and Poile didn't want to see the same thing happen with Weber potentially leaving.
"In my former career as the GM of the Washington Capitals, I had a young defenseman the same age as Shea Weber in Scott Sevens," Poile said. "He was tendered an offer sheet by the St. Louis Blues. Our organization decided not to match that offer sheet. Stevens went on to New Jersey and played with Martin Brodeur and they won three Stanley Cups together, and Stevens was a first- or second-team all-star for 11 seasons. With Shea Weber on defense and Pekka Rinne in goal, we have the same model as New Jersey has, and we'd love to emulate their success."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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