The tension between the Nashville Predators and Shea Weber was purely business.
By JOHN MANASSOFS Tennessee
The message from both Nashville Predators management and from captain
Shea Weber himself struck the same theme and seemed sincere: All is well that ends well.
Never mind the acrimony that emanated from Weber’s camp from the time he signed a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers until Tuesday afternoon – roughly 33 hours before the Predators’ deadline to match the deal or let Weber go – when Nashville finally announced it would match the deal. During that span, one of Weber’s representatives said more than once that the player wanted to be a Flyer. Yet on Wednesday, Weber and Preds management let it be known that those words were simply business and not much else.
Last year when Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5-million contract through arbitration, the conference call that ensued with general manager David Poile and Weber seemed awkward at best. And when All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter departed via free agency to sign with Minnesota on July 4, Poile’s anger was palpable in a conference call in both his words and his tone.
Not so on Wednesday. On a televised press conference, Poile appeared calm in saying, effectively, that the process was “just business.”
“I’ve been through this before,” Poile said. “It’s the business of hockey and we just finished the business of hockey. A player’s got to do what a player’s got to do, his agent’s got to say what he’s got to say . . . I have no second thoughts at all that he’s not going to be as good as he’s ever been before. All of this will be put behind us. It’s business. I don’t even want to hear about it. I don’t even need to talk about it. I’ll never ask Shea about how his summer was up to this point. He’s now with us for 14 years.”
And that’s the bottom line. Weber sung the same tune while at once distancing himself from his agents’ specific remarks while validating them for the job they did to get him the contract. At one point, he was asked if he second-guessed what they did at all. He said no and, really, with $68 million in bonuses headed his way over the next six seasons, what could he possibly have to second-guess?
“I guess that’s — that was his business side of it, his feelings, I guess,” Weber said of his agent’s comments. “Like I said, I was never a part of any of that. I didn’t make any statements publicly. I love of the city of Nashville, I love the fans. I love my teammates and, like I said before, it’s a very positive thing that the ownership has stepped up and shown that they’re going to be a team that’s going to spend to the cap and bring guys in and be a successful team.”
In the time between when Weber signed the offer sheet and when some of those comments were made, the public sentiment in Nashville has been that he would have to mend fences. From the indications on Wednesday, consider them mended. Certainly, he won’t have to mend them with coach Barry Trotz.
Trotz was the one who informed Weber that the Preds would match the offer sheet. Both men make their summer homes in Kelowna, B.C. So Trotz delivered the news in person and celebrated with Weber and his fiancée. The coach said, his words dripping in sarcasm, that they shared “a glass of ice water together.”
As for Weber’s teammates, they apparently were most concerned that he would be back. They understand as well as anyone how the off-ice game is played. Poile said he received calls from Hal Gill, Mike Fisher and Chris Mason attesting to Weber’s value both on the ice and in the leadership department, seemingly imploring the Preds to bring the captain back. Weber’s teammates were going to bat for him.
About the only hint of resentment came from Poile and Trotz in reference to a comment by one of Weber’s agents that the team might be in a rebuilding mode since Suter departed. The same team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons is largely intact, minus Suter. It’s a loss, but it wouldn’t seem to propel the Preds into a rebuilding phase, not with Pekka Rinne (a finalist two years straight for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s top goalie) and almost the entire rest of the team back.
“I didn’t like that word or phrase,” Poile said.
Weber quashed that notion while noting that most of the departures were players the team acquired at the trading deadline or beyond – Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov.
“I don’t think we’re rebuilding at all,” he said. “I mean, you look at our team compared to last year, yeah, we’re young, but I think we lost Andrei Kostitsyn, lost Radulov, but they weren’t additions until late in the season. I mean, Suter’s pretty much the big name. Now it’s time for someone on the back end, someone young, (Roman) Josi, (Dan Ellis), (Kevin Klein), to step up and play more minutes and I think we’ve got guys who are capable of doing that, so it’s an exciting time. I think we’re a young team, but we’re very talented and we’re not far away at all.”
The last question Weber took on a conference call asked him whether, owing to the length of the contract, it felt like a marriage. His humor showed his comfort with the situation.
“I don’t know, what’s the divorce rate?” he quipped. “That’s the answer to that question. I don’t want to be seeing any divorces. It’s a good feeling because it’s where I started. Obviously, they gave me the chance from the beginning and it would be really exciting to win in this city. The fans are very passionate, its’ a good hockey city and I can’t wait to get the season going.”
That doesn’t sound like someone who wishes he were in another city for the rest of his career.