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A shining moment for Nashville

There are certain moments in life where you’ll never forget where you were when a specific event occurred. Predators fans won’t forget where they were when the news broke that David Poile and ownership stepped up and matched the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet Shea Weber had signed with Philadelphia last Wednesday evening.

Words honestly can’t describe how important this is (or could be) for the Predators’ franchise. But I’ll try.

The consequences of not matching may have outweighed the rewards of matching Weber’s offer sheet, but the consequences of watching Weber exit stage left were too steep that the Predators’ brass had to match. They had to. They didn’t have any other choice.

In short, this organization wasn’t ready for a rebuild. As much as it may help 5-10 years down the road to stack the cupboard with top-five draft picks, the Predators have come too far, on and off the ice, over the last two years that they couldn’t afford to see that momentum go in reverse. Further, this team isn’t too far from contending for a Stanley Cup with Weber on board for the next decade-plus (or so says his contract).

A price tag of $110 million is too much coin for any athlete, but this is the messed up sports world we live in nowadays. And in this case the Predators had to bite the financial bullet and keep its face of the franchise.

You can make a great case that Weber is the best defenseman in today’s NHL. He shoots like Al MacInnis and hits like Scott Stevens. He’s the complete package, the prototype blue liner that today’s kids want to be tomorrow. He’s been a finalist for back-to-back Norris Trophies. His slap shot has been known to tear through nets, for crying out loud.

As of now, the league’s maximum annual salary is a shade above $14 million. The Predators will pay almost twice that in less than a calendar year, and will shell out a total of $56 million to Weber in the contract’s first four years. It’s a lot of dough, especially for a small-market franchise still trying to breakthrough in the playoffs.

But it’s worth it, and the Predators will see the benefits down the road.

When you think of players that you want to build a team around, Weber is near the top of that list. Maybe not at the level of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos – but the Predators’ captain may be one of the first 10 you think of.

Weber, with many accolades in his back pocket already, is 26 years old with a promising career ahead of him, entering his prime years. He’s going to win a Norris Trophy sooner or later. Predators fans hope No. 6 is the one retrieving Lord Stanley from Gary Bettman one day. Speaking of the No. 6 – Weber will be the last to wear such number in Predator Gold, because it will be in Smashville’s rafters 15-16 years from now.

The Predators have never had that one superstar to build around. Sure, Weber, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter are currently stars and all have bright futures. But no one was sure about their future coming into the 2011-12 season. Two of them, Weber and Rinne, will be around when the 2012-13 season commences – and they’ll be around for a lot longer than that.

Weber is a player that can attract other players. He could be the piece that makes Nashville more of a destination spot than a defacto farm team for the big boys of the NHL.

The Predators’ ownership has proved that they are now of those big boys. Sure, Philadelphia did the negotiating for Poile and company, but the Predators now employ the richest defenseman in NHL history. Who could have imagined four years ago that they would be paying a player nine figures?

In a way, this past week has been a portrait of what the first 14 years have been like for hockey in Nashville.

Once the Flyers signed Weber to the lucrative contract, the naysayers came out of the woodwork and made it clear that there was NO WAY in you-know-where that the Predators could match the offer. Many of those people were befuddled that the Little Engine That Could had enough money to spend with the elite, despite the ownership boldly stating otherwise. Many of those people were ready to move the Predators to Canada like it was 2007 all over again.

We also heard Weber’s agents publicly drag Nashville through the mud, saying how Weber no longer wants to be with the only team he’s ever known, that he has moved on from the team he has previously said he wants to be with for a long time.

We never heard one word from Weber himself, nor from the Predators themselves.

But on Tuesday, the Predators didn’t have to say much. They put the money where their mouth is. They walked the walk. They gave Preds Nation a reason to be excited after the last two summers have been comprised of one negative after another.

Over the last 14 years there haven’t been many moments where Predators fans have truly felt great about their team. Every step forward has been followed up with a step or two back, as there has been plenty of postseason disappointments and off-ice turmoil.

However, whenever the Predators’ backs have been against the wall, they have always fought back. Always. In this instance, when Suter departed and Weber signed an offer sheet, the Predators fought back and retained their captain.

It’s a moment that Predators fans will always remember. Why? Because it’s the biggest moment in franchise history.

 
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  1. [...] Our story from July 25th: A shining moment for Nashville [...]