Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My (somewhat scattered) perspective on the Weber-happenings

Hey ladies and germs -- long time since I've hollered at you!  As it so often does, life has gotten in the way of living, lo these past 9 months of blog silence. I had made a conscious decision to blog only when an event that truly struck a nerve or tickled my fancy occurred.  There are plenty of other blogs out there that cover the  day-to-day minutiae and game recaps, and do a better job of it than I could.  However, like many others, I seem to have found my muse this week, so hopefully you enjoy the following.  I've just got to get it off my chest.

Depending on who you ask, yesterday was the darkest day in the history of the Nashville Predators, or just another harrowing loop in the wild, enjoyable ride of Preds fanship.  The truth lies, as it so often does, somewhere in the middle.

We'd be remiss to ignore the great Balsillie fiasco of 2007 when considering our franchise's darkest hour, but I'm not so quick to write this off as another minor stumbling block to be overcome, the sort we deal with year after year.  While the Predators moniker has become synonymous with dirty hands, blue collars, and from-out-of-nowhere names, the past few years have introduced a few new elements to our identity.  Three, in particular: Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, and notably, Shea Weber.  I won't get into the resumes of these three; their accomplishments are well-known and documented.  What does bear mention is what they've done for their club.  These three young players have brought a level of talent and recognition to Nashville that was previously only seen in the country music industry.  For the first time, Nashville has legitimate, superstar-level talent, and the rest of the league salivates accordingly.  Prior to the past week, the fanbase may have been grumpy about things like a quiet free agency, the selection of a goaltender with our first pick in the draft, or the "sale" of a promising young player like Cody Franson, but these are "hardships" that go hand-in-hand with being a Predators fan.  At the end of the day, in the face of these nuisances, we could find solace in the knowledge that our franchise's foundation was a triad of superstar players.  We endured the claims of "inside information" about the various components wanting out, the bad trade proposals, the barrage of  "you won't be able to afford to pay them, anyway."  We were able to weather all of that because we had been assured by all levels of the organization, from ownership, to front office, to coaching staff, that those three were going nowhere, irrespective of the cost.  That knowledge was what we hung our hats on, going into what should have been our most exciting offseason in team history.

So what happened?  We've gone from Weber's re-signing being the assured foregone conclusion of the summer to a pit in the stomach, as we look toward next summer.  From the mouths of Weber and Poile themselves, this contract was supposed to be a layup.  For whatever reason, it didn't happen that way, and I fear that nothing can be taken for granted.  There's plenty of talk centered around what Weber's potential exit could mean for the franchise.  Some take a doomsday stance, feeling that he's the latest talent to be farmed out to the rest of the NHL.  Others have a sunnier perspective, rationalizing that losing Weber can be softened by the aforementioned presence of Suter and Rinne, as well as the emergence of young guns such as Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.  For once, I have to take the hard-line.

We've been assured since the current ownership group came in that Weber was part of the "core" group of guys, that they knew what his demands were and that they were prepared to meet them.  As a fan, we invest in the team through ticket and merchandise purchase, and moreover, through emotional investment.  To know that our owners were prepared to reward that personal investment was a refreshing change of pace.  The latest turn of events is thus a bitter pill to swallow.  There's many arguments being made in the Twitterverse and Blogsphere at the moment that losing Weber wouldn't be the end of the world.  On the ice, it might not, but from a franchise credibility standpoint, I think it's as close as we've ever come.  We have our first homegrown captain, a top three defenseman in the league, a Norris runner-up, and the face of the franchise -- it's absolutely NOT okay to let him go, regardless of the presence of the other two cornerstones or an embarassment of riches in your prospect pool.  You do what it takes.

Of course, I'm appreciative of the fact that it does take two to tango.  Weber has to WANT to stay, and I still believe that he does.  The speculation is that the breakdown in talks occurred due not to money -- rumor has it that the Preds were willing to venture into rarified, 7 million+ air-- but term.  The Predators want to know that if they're going to make Weber the highest paid player in franchise history, that their investment will be one of long term.  On the other hand, Weber doesn't want to take that money and wind up the only big fish in the pond.  Weber has understandable reservations about the team's continued competitiveness.  He's seen that we've got a good foundation, that we're inching closer to being a true contender, as opposed to a team that's consistent good, but not great.  Now, he wants to know, before taking that final plunge of ultimate commitment, that the team and ownership is equally dedicated.  He wants to know that we're going to literally put our money where our mouth is, likely by ponying up to retain Suter and Rinne, and also augment our admittedly anemic offense.  Some fans are taking this as a mortal offense -- but I tend to be understanding.  Weber is a part of an unbelievable, generational group that has already racked up a considerable amount of hardware -- not just gold medals at different stages, but Stanley Cup rings.  He doesn't want to be married to a team that doesn't have a legitimate chance of winning a Cup.  It's difficult to begrudge him that, and while some believe that our chances aren't that different with or without the Captain, I'm not so quick to subscribe to belief in his replaceability.  Like it or not, Weber is a rare talent, and filling that void would be much harder than some realize or would like to admit.

So what happens now?

I don't believe that arbitration will poison the well with Weber to the extent that some maintain.  I still believe that Weber remains amenable to being with the team long term, but he does have concessions that he'd like met.  My point is that as fans, our concessions should likely mirror Shea's :  don't tell me you're committed to winning at an organizational level, show me.  Sign Suter by Christmas.  Sign Pekka by Valentine's day.  Accomplish those two tasks, and all of this Weber unpleasantness becomes another in a long line of  "Oh man, remember THAT?" moments.  On the other hand, if you don't believe that you can sign him, I don't believe you can run the risk of losing him for nothing.  If you don't feel that you can meet conditions acceptable enough to Weber to convince him to re-sign, then trade him -- the sooner, the better.  But if we MUST trade him -- God help you, the return has to be good.  Picks and prospects are of no value to an organization at our current stage.  We're in, as GMDP likes to put it, within a window of opportunity, at the moment.  Long term assets are nice, but if we're aiming to win a cup before 2020, Weber needs to be turned into proven, NHL-level talent of an equal caliber.  Anything less, and we've put a black mark on the franchise's credibility, a dent in the relationship with the fanbase, and worst of all -- we've taken a step back in our pursuit of our uniform, unerring goal of winning a Stanley Cup.

Your move, Mr. Poile.  No pressure.

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