"In tendering an offer sheet to Shea Weber, we were trying to add a top defenseman entering the prime of his career. With Nashville matching our offer, we wish Shea and the Predators all the best." -- Paul Holmgren's statement released through the club's official website after Nashville's announcement they would match Flyers offer sheet
The deadline for the Nashville Predators to match the Philadelphia Flyers offer sheet to Shea Weber wasn't until 11:30 P.M. Wednesday night, but the Preds didn't need that much time to announce their ultimate decision.
Amid speculation throughout the day on social media platforms and anonymous "sources" stating Nashville would match the heavily front-loaded 14-year, $110 million sheet, they did just that a little before 3:00 P.M. EST Tuesday in what the Predators official website called "the most important hockey transaction in franchise history".
The move came as a surprise to many who figured the smaller market club could't handle the $27 million due to the All-Star defenseman within the first 13 months -- with the additional risk coming from the fact that the money is all to be paid out regardless if there is a lockout or the season is played.
Nashville's situation could be very awkward, indeed, as their on-ice leader and captain made it well-known he wanted out of Music City by signing Philadelphia's offer sheet. Weber's team of agents even made comments last week referring to the situation that has the potential to make the relationship a bit strained:
"He'd like to play with the Philadelphia Flyers because we all feel that he's just another piece in the puzzle to take them to the next level," Jarrett Bousquet said. "He doesn't want to go through a rebuilding process again."
Wednesday afternoon saw Kevin Epp, another member of Weber's team of agents, trying to do some damage control:
"I don't think they're in a rebuild, by any means." -- Epp on Wednesday after Nashville matched Flyers offer sheet.
Under terms of the CBA, the Preds cannot trade Weber for at least a calendar year, so they are on the hook for all of the huge first-year payout, and the defender can even negotiate NTC / NMC if he so wishes.
It was obvious that Weber's first choice was to don the Orange-and-Black next year, and Flyers brass had hoped he would be an integral part in Philly getting to that next level.
For Paul Holmgren and the Flyers -- who had planned on adding a difference-maker on the blue line and one on the wing -- it's back to the drawing board again in what is thus far shaping up as a summer of frustration. After having Weber's defensive partner Ryan Suter reject their UFA contract offer to instead head to the Minnesota Wild and striking out in efforts to land Rick Nash -- who was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the New York Rangers Monday -- and Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks.
It's kind of ironic that not only did the Flyers miss out on signing Suter, but Philadelphia would also most-likely landed Weber had Suter stayed in Nashville -- unless Weber had decided to remain with the team, of course. But had he still decided to sign the offer sheet with Philly, the Predators would not have been able to match the financial terms of the offer.
Further impact additions on the blue line -- a spot where Philly could use an infusion of a Weber-type defender with the likelihood that Chris Pronger is destined for LTIR and the loss of Matt Carle via free agency -- will be even more difficult to procure, as there are no remaining UFA's available at this point.
The possibility of a trade exists, possibly for Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes or Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks. Both are excellent two-way defenders that could log significant time both on the power play and penalty killing units. Yandle has scored double-digit goals in each of he past three seasons, and Edler had notched 19 goals in the last two years.
The problem with attempting to acquire either rear guard via the trade route is Holmgren will have to part with roster players, and the names of Sean Couturier or Brayden Schenn -- two young players the Flyers GM has been adamant about retaining -- will likely be included by any possible partner in negotiations.
But it's important that Holmgren keep his focus on his defense, as Kimmo Timonen is wearing down and Andrej Meszaros is coming off back surgery. Having lost Carle's minutes and adding Luke Schenn and Bruno Gervais, Peter Laviolette will need more help for Timonen, Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, and Andreas Lilja. Youngsters Marc-Andre Bourdon (still an unsigned RFA), Erik Gustafsson, and Brandon Manning may be pressed into service and might see some playing time should Holmgren be unable to add any other top-four defenders.
Many feel Holmgren will now go all out in attempts to land a top-notch winger, but the prospects of that happening are growing slimmer. With the Rangers having taken advantage of the Flyers situation and nabbed Nash in the meantime, that leaves UFA's Shane Doan and Ryan as the best possible options to play on Claude Giroux's right side.
Doan is still hoping there is some type of movement in the Phoenix Coyotes ownership issues so that he can return to the desert, but even if he decides to move on, it's still a long shot he ends up in Philadelphia. The combination of scoring ability, toughness, and leadership that Doan brings makes him a highly sought after commodity, and there are reportedly up to 16 teams that may bid for his services.
Again, the issue with trying the trade route to obtain Ryan is Holmgren will have to part with roster players, and Anaheim GM Bob Murray will almost certainly be demanding either Couturier or Schenn be included in whatever package is offered, just as he did at the NHL Entry Draft at the end of June.
Another option could potentially be Alexander Semin, who could be a dangerous weapon riding shotgun with Giroux -- and wouldn't cost Holmgren any roster players since he's an UFA. The ultra-talented 28-year-old Russian is coming off a sub-par season in which he scored 21 goals and notched 54 points in 77 games, a year in which he finished out his one-year, $6.7 million deal. It was his lowest goal total in six years, and his +9 rating was his worst since 2007-08 when he was a -18.
In the three seasons preceding the just-completed 2011-12 campaign, Semin was a combined stellar +83, with 102 goals in 200 games over that same span.
Despite a TSN panel that vilified Semin as a "coach killer" late in the season, there are no other players with his dynamic skill set available.
If all of these other options do not come to fruition, Holmgren could still have the completing player for the top line right under his nose. Jakub Voracek remains an unsigned RFA, and showed late in the regular season and playoffs that he could well be the skater envisioned when he was acquired in the Jeff Carter trade last summer. After going through a sometimes infuriating early stretch where he looked to pass first far too often, the 22-year-old fit in well in a scoring role as the campaign progressed.
The Flyers were a very good club last year and still have the young core intact. There is still a good amount of time in the off-season with which to improve the team, and while it was disappointing to lose out on the attempt to add Weber it's far from time to show any kind of panic.