Predators captain Shea Weber being locked up for 14 years means the Predators have a superstar they can build the entire franchise around – a luxury that GM David Poile has yet to have in his tenure with the Predators.
Even though Weber, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter are all superstars in their own right, at this time last summer none of them were signed beyond the 2011-12 season. The Predators built the team around them in recent years, but that solid foundation wasn’t enough to attract other top free agents. They hope it will be easier to do just that with Weber and Rinne both under contract long term.
“It’s definitely a thing I’d love to help out with,” Weber said of becoming a pseudo recruiter for opposing top talent. “I’ve talked to plenty of guys … [they] talk about how much they love Nashville. If there’s any possibility that we can get guys in here, whether it’s through a trade or whatever, we’ve got to find a way to get guys to want to come here.”
Weber is popular on and off the ice and is well-respected around the league. He is one of the handful of players (one of the only defensemen) that other NHLers would sign with a team just to skate alongside that specific player. Earlier this summer we heard about Sidney Crosby helping recruit free agent Zach Parise to Pittsburgh (to no avail however); you can bet a lot more of that happens behind the scenes.
Now that a surefire annual All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy finalist is committed to the Predators for 14 years, it may catch the eye of free agents in coming years.
“We needed ownership to step up and show that we’re stable and we can do this kind of thing. That’s going to attract more guys and make guys want to stay,” said Weber.
Big-name players such as Jarome Iginla, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are all unrestricted free agents in 2013, while 2014 features a laundry list of star players that could potentially hit the open market.
Weber’s connection to Team Canada and the friendships from those teams can’t hurt, either. We all saw what happened on July 4th when a pair of longtime friends, who played together when they were teenagers, teamed up and signed with Minnesota. Perhaps that becomes a trend in the NHL? Perhaps Weber can sell others on joining him in Nashville?
The first recruiting assignment for Weber could be pushed to the forefront. The Predators are interested in current free agent Shane Doan, who is threatening to leave Phoenix if ownership doesn’t gain any traction on finalizing the sale this week. Weber and Doan played together in 2007 and 2009 for Canada at the World Championships.
“He’s the kind of guy that anyone would love to have on their team,” said Weber. “Obviously, knowing Shane, he’s a great guy off the ice and a great leader. Having his veteran presence in the locker room would help a lot of us.”
Though Doan wouldn’t be the final piece to the puzzle, per se, his offensive presence and leadership would go a long way for the Predators. Plus he shares the same goal as the Predators: winning that elusive, first Stanley Cup.
The fact that Weber is signed long term and the Predators already have a good amount of youth at the NHL level is a good sign for the future. As Poile said, retaining Weber kept the Predators in their “window of opportunity.”
“A year ago after we won our first playoff round we made a lot of hard decisions,” Poile explained, “we let go of a lot of veteran players and started the [2011-12] season as the youngest team in the league.
“That, to me, started our window of opportunity. That’s where I felt potentially in the next three, four, five years, as long as we kept the bulk of our team together, that this was our chance to win. With Pekka signing and now Shea signing, I think we are well on our way to living up to that hope or phrase of ‘window of opportunity.’”
As long as the Predators stay a consistent playoff contender in a difficult Western Conference, Weber may be able to help the team add that much-needed goal scorer or a top-line center or a fellow top-pair defenseman. If Weber can help pull that off, the Predators could capitalize on that window of opportunity.
“Now there are guys committed long term [here] and there are no more excuses,” Weber said. “That way we can just try to recruit guys and tell them all the good things we’ve got going and what we look forward to in the future.”