|The Nashville Predators are fighting for their lives this offseason (Getty)|
By Kristopher Martel
The Nashville Predators are fighting for their lives. They're losing battles and unless they act quickly, they're going to lose the war.
With Ryan Suter and Jordin Tootoo gone this offseason, word came out via Darren Dreger of TSN at around midnight that Predators captain and restricted free agent Shea Weber had signed a 14 year/$110mil offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. Looking past the contract, past the obviously front-loaded offer itself, there is one thing that is dreadfully clear: Aggressive NHL owners are flexing their muscle and seemingly bullying small-market/more pacifistic owners.
Take for example the Nashville Predators organization, which is at the forefront of this entire fiasco. Nashville has been in existence for 13 NHL seasons. They've employed, in that time span, one head coach and one general manager. They've drafted some amazing talent (Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Alex Radulov [yes, even though he is in the KHL], Pekka Rinne to name a few). They build their team the RIGHT way, bring in the RIGHT pieces of the puzzle, and are morally/fiscally one of the most responsible and best run organizations in the NHL.
A few months ago, the Predators were one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and were riding high after knocking out division-rival Detroit in the first round by doing things the right way.
And what's their reward? The Philadelphia Flyers, arguably one of the largest and most powerful organizations in the NHL, slap a 14-year signed offer sheet in front of Nashville general manager David Poile essentially telling him (and the owners) that if they want to play with the big boys, it's time to step up.
Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spector (who owns the Flyers), has been playing this muscle-flexing game for nearly 50 years. What's even crazier about this entire deal is that Snider offered this contract, seeing that he's one of the members of the NHL's legal-bargaining team for the CBA negotiations and he's part of that SAME group that wants to limit player contracts to 5 years max. Yet Snider, and other owners out there as well, isn't afraid to pour buckets of money out for the players he wants on his team.
Minnesota's Craig Leipold joined this group of Adonis' earlier this month. Back in April all Leipold could talk about was how the Wild needed to fix their system, summed up by this quote:
|Weber signs Flyers' offer sheet|
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“We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries.”
Then Leipold signs two of the best free agents on the market to a total of 13 years and $198mil, while cutting out 2 checks for $20mil upfront money in the process. What's this say? Winning is more important than the possibility of cutting expenses.
Nashville is in a huge bind. They've been the fiscally responsible members of the NHL for most of their existence, with exception to the final years of Craig Leipold's ownership of the Predators. There comes a time when they have to decide if they're going to stay the course and do things the “Predator Way”, or flip the shifter into reverse, do a 180, and live up to the promises of being a “cap team” that the new owners have been so eager to stress to the media over the past 6 months.
The Predators have the money; there is no question of that. They offered Suter a deal that rivaled Minnesota's, they propositioned Parise to come to Nashville in the event Suter signed, all while knowing Weber was waiting. So the money is there. However, from the standpoint of a person who follows the team regularly, it's very easy to be extremely frustrated over the past few weeks. The Predators could possibly lose out on a total of 2 of their best defenseman and arguably their most popular player. Some long-time fans are even canceling their season tickets in disgust (yes, I'm not joking).
So, does Nashville become the bully? The fans are clamoring for the Predators to be aggressive. They want the team to spend. They want to see Nashville as a destination for NHL's brightest and best stars. Other owners know better and are now throwing money out there to see what they will do. With the Nashville Predators organization effectively having their backs to the wall, will they cower down and let other teams bully them around? Or is it time for the “little guy” to fight back, match this offer sheet, and lock up the face of their franchise for the long haul?