The Predators have been poking around for weeks, looking to see what they could get in a trade for star defenseman Shea Weber, who's a restricted free agent. The fruitless talks have been maddening for Weber, and for all the teams waiting on Nashville, and last night the Flyers put an end to it all. They signed Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet, and the Preds now have seven days to match.
It's a ballsy move by Philly. Offer sheets, like what we've just gone through with Jeremy Lin, simply aren't done that often in hockey. (One of them nearly led to a GM barn fight.) It's seemingly a weird gentleman's agreement thing, and GMs get righteously pissed when they're used, even though they're totally above board. Interestingly, it was the Flyers who used the first offer sheet with a salary cap in place, agreeing with Ryan Kesler in 2006. Then-GM Bob Clarke said:
"It was sort of an unwritten rule that you didn't sign any Group 2 players because the other team would match. In today's (salary cap) world, you may not match. You may take the compensation. This is the first one (offer sheet), but it's not going to be the last."
Let's take a moment to applaud Paul Holmgren and Shea Weber for an exquisite offer sheet, the details of which are a master class on big contracts in the dying days of the current CBA. With labor talks ongoing, the NHL's financial landscape is going to look a lot different by opening night—but Shea Weber is going to be a happy man in orange and black.
- This deal is frontloaded, like all the other massive deals signed in recent years. Nick Kypreos has the details: $14 million a year for the first four years, $12 million each of the next two, $6 million in years seven through ten, then wee little payouts of $3M, $1M, $1M, and $1M. The point? Salary cap relief for the Flyers. The cap hit gets averaged out, so even in those lucrative first few years, it'll only cost Philly about $7.85 million against their cap. Even if he never plays the last few years of the deal.
Yes, this pisses the NHL off to no end. They put their foot down on Ilya Kovalchuk's similar deal, but they probably can't touch this one—until frontloaded contracts are likely abolished in the new CBA. The Flyers got this one in under the wire.
(Just like the big deals for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Weber's deal ends when he's 40. An NHL amendment, passed after the Kovalchuk mess, forbade long-term deals from running past a player's 41st birthday. Again, nice work, Homer.)
- Any 14-year deal, never mind the player's age, might not be legal after the new CBA is in place. Owners are beating the drum hard for term limits on contracts, and one report has them aiming for a five-year maximum. There's a good chance no team will ever be able to lock up a superstar for their entire career on a single deal—but that won't be retroactive. Weber would be Philly's until 2026, something no team would be able to say if they traded for him this year then signed him as an unrestricted free agent next summer. And Weber might be the last 26 year old to be set for the rest of his hockey life.
- What's in it for Weber? This is the truly brilliant part of Philly's offer, and also relates to something the owners are fighting hard for in the new CBA: salary rollbacks. The owners claim they're paying too much money (and yet sign players to $110 million contracts without blinking, but that's not the point.) They're pushing for leaguewide salary rollbacks starting next year, which would even affect existing contracts. How to protect Weber's $110 million from becoming something less than $110 million?
Signing bonuses. Weber will actually only make $1M in salary each of his first four seasons. But he'll receive $52 million in signing bonuses over those four years, and $68 million over his first six. And signing bonuses cannot be touched by any proposed salary rollbacks. True, guaranteed money.
The signing bonuses also mean Nashville has almost no chance of matching the offer. They could match, and try to trade Weber to get something for him. But as Kypreos points out, they'd have to keep him for a full calendar year before attempting to move him, and pay him $27 million (one year's salary, two years' signing bonuses) for just that one season.
Flyers fans should be sending their front office mash notes today. Preds fans? Well, if your team doesn't match, you'll get four first-round draft picks as compensation. Which, from a perennial playoff team like the Flyers, isn't much. Probably a lot of teams kicking themselves today about not having used offer sheets over the last six years.