Reports that Detroit’s long-time defensive anchor, Niklas Lidstrom, was set to retire began a whirlwind of nostalgic tweets and articles that only intensified after Lidstrom held court yesterday to officially announce his career was, in fact, at an end. Although it’s hard to imagine a soul in hockeydom personally happy to see this day come, it’s probably fair to say that the GMs of Detroit’s 29 rival organizations are pleased their clubs no longer have to face the pending Hall-of-Famer on the ice.
All Eyes on Smashville
Perhaps, though, there’s one GM that would have preferred Lidstrom return instead. David Poile, Nashville’s GM, was already in for an extremely challenging off-season, one in which the prospect of losing Ryan Suter to unrestricted free agency and Shea Weber responding by refusing to sign long-term, seem to be very real threats. The sudden retirement of Lidstrom, then, is an extra complication for the Predators, as the Red Wings, eager to land a top defenseman to replace Lidstrom and flush with cap space, are primed to, and will, make a run at Suter if he’s available come July 1.
Seriously, does any GM in the NHL have a more difficult off-season awaiting him than David Poile?
Now, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Suter won’t re-sign or that Shea Weber won’t agree to a long-term deal with the Predators. As recently as January, The Hockey Writers‘ Peter Harling assessed the Predators’ impending dilemma and provided what seemed, from the outside looking in, a reasonable estimation of what it would take to keep both in the fold:
“By adding an impact player up front and having a successful playoff run, the Preds would show both Weber and Suter that Nashville is serious about winning and spending. A long playoff run would also provide the club with significant revenue to support lucrative contracts Weber and Suter will command.”
The Predators certainly followed Harling’s prescription to add an “impact player” and make a statement about “winning and spending” with four moves meant to send the team deep into the playoffs: a trade with Montreal for defenseman Hal Gill and then again 10 days later for Andrei Kostitsyn, prying pending UFA center Paul Gaustad from Buffalo and the return of Alexander Radulov from Russia which was approve by the NHL.
The long playoff run didn’t materialize, however, as they followed up a 5-game route of Detroit in the 1st round by getting dispatched just as quickly by Phoenix in the next. Kostitsyn and Radulov added drama to the entire specter and when the dust settled, Weber freely expressed his disappointment with Radulov. Throw in lingering concerns over the team’s finances and the revenues not earned due to the earlier-than-expected exit from the playoffs and it seems fair to question whether Nashville’s ownership will be willing and able to sustain the calibre of team Suter and Weber want to play on.
The Curious Case of Shea Weber
Whatever the level of interest Suter is drawing now, it’s a safe bet Weber, if he is approaching unrestricted free agency this time next summer, will be drawing just as much, if not significantly more, attention. The Tennessean’s John Glennon spelled out the multiple short-term options with Weber:
- “He could sign a multiyear contract with Nashville, which is what the Predators would like.
- He could become a restricted free agent on July 1, meaning other teams would have the opportunity to sign him to an offer sheet. The Predators could choose to match the offer sheet or receive draft-pick compensation if they let him go.
- He could choose to go to salary arbitration, which would allow him to select a one- or two-year deal with the Predators.”
This isn’t Poile’s first rodeo; he knows what is at stake and will act decisively with Weber one way or the other. Obviously, he has to figure out is whether Weber will sign long-term with the Predators.
So, let’s first assume that the best-case scenario for Nashville plays out: Poile gets Weber to sign a long-term deal regardless of how the Suter situation plays out and in doing so negates a potentially awkward distraction before the season even begins. If, however, Poile has serious concerns about being to reach a long-term deal now (or ever) with Weber, he’s going to have to make a series of tough choices. Now imagine the alternative options: dealing or holding onto and negotiating with Weber now, on or before the trade deadline or after the end of next season.
The essential dilemma is that the ideal time (in terms of the return) to trade Weber, if Poile was inclined to do so, would be prior to the draft. Poile, if he doesn’t already, should know within a couple weeks whether Suter is determined to test free agency or not but trading Weber before the draft kills any hope of retaining Suter. However, waiting to deal Weber doesn’t make sense in that, the longer Poile delays, the lower the return likely becomes.
We don’t yet know how the Suter-Weber saga will shake out for the Predators, but it’s easy to imagine an exasperated David Poile sitting idly in some lonely office in the Music City, cursing the genteel Swede that is Niklas Lidstrom, for one last aggravation.