Various reports out of Philadelphia and Nashville confirm that the Flyers have signed restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber to a lucrative offersheet, putting the pressure on the Predators to retain their captain.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the compensation paid to the Predators should they choose not to match the Flyers’ offer could be as steep as four first round draft picks.

But, for the Predators, the blow of losing arguably the league’s top defender (Weber) and his world-class defensive partner (Ryan Suter) in the same summer without getting an immediate return would be devastating.

Prior to the commencement of free agency, Predators general manager David Poile declared that any team signing Weber to an offersheet should expect the Predators to match.

That, however, was prior to the news that the Flyers offered (and Weber accepted) a contract totaling 14 years and $110 million.

The $7.857 million annual cap hit likely won’t be an issue, as the Predators sit comfortably under the salary cap. That said, the structure of the contract dictates that Weber will be paid in a heavily-frontloaded manner, which could be difficult for the small-market Predators.

  • Years 1-4: $1 million annual salary and $13 million annual signing bonus
  • Years 5-6: $4 million annual salary and $8 million annual signing bonus
  • Years 7-10: $6 million annual salary
  • Year 11: $3 million annual salary
  • Years 12-14: 1 million annual salary

What we have here is the classic case of extra years at a low salary to bring down the average salary/cap hit. Many teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, have used this CBA loophole to sign star players at a reasonable cap hit.

But what Philadelphia has done that hasn’t yet been seen – at least to my knowledge – is offer a contract that the Predators just might not be able to match, not with regard to term or annual cap hit, but rather up-front cash.

The Flyers are a big-market team with one of the richest and most powerful owners in the NHL. The Predators are one of the smallest market teams struggling to keep up with the rest of the league. This maneuver, plain and simple, is bullying.

Still, though, credit must be given to the Flyers, who have taken the league’s CBA and used it to their advantage to sign a legitimate superstar before unrestricted free agency comes into play.

At this point, one of several possible scenarios could play out:

  • The Predators could opt to match the contract and retain Weber long-term,
  • The Predators could match the contract and seek to trade Weber after the mandatory one year trade freeze following an offersheet,
  • The Predators could let go of Weber and move on with the compensatory picks acquired from the Flyers,
  • Or the Predators could let go of Weber, then turn around and trade the compensatory picks back to the Flyers in exchange for immediate help, such as one or several of Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, or Jakub Voracek, all of whom the Predators were seeking as compensation for Weber via trade prior to the offersheet.

And then there is this little-discussed possibility: the NHL could rule with an iron fist that Weber’s contract, like that signed by Ilya Kovalchuk one year ago, is a blatant move to circumvent the salary cap and, thus, break the rules.

This is an unlikely scenario, but one that might gain some steam with further analysis.

As outlined above, Weber’s contract is for 14 years, paying him just $1 million per year in each of his final three years, when he will be 39, 40, and 41 years old. While it’s not uncommon for defensemen to play into their late 30s and even early 40s, it is a swift and sudden drop in pay for a player who will have accumulated $107 million in the contract’s first 11 years.

Regardless of the outcome, this is a maneuver that surely will have the hockey world talking for the coming days, weeks, months, and years, as its ramifications will impact at least one team (and likely two or more) for the next 14 years.

And that’s not even taking into consideration how this (along with other long-term, big-money contracts) impact the ongoing CBA negotiations that could threaten another lockout…