Friday, July 20, 2012

Shea Weber, and how he can affect the new CBA

The last week has been an exciting one for hockey fans.  In addition to a few big name defenseman being named coaches, the obvious big news has been regarding the CBA negotiations and the Shea Weber monster offer sheet of $110 million dollars over 14 years with the Philadelphia Flyers.

While offer sheets are nothing new, they are always a testy issue - ask Brian Burke or Dave Nonis what they think.  There are some pretty strong reasons why they are rarely used in the NHL.  Though, this is the second time the Flyers have done so since the lockout.  Think what you will about that.

The offer sheet that Weber signed was reportedly heavily front loaded, with Weber being due $26 million within the first 11 months.  That is no problem for a team backed by Comcast, with a rapid fan base, and who is two years removed from a Stanley Cup birth.  However, for a team that was sold for $174 million in 2007, that was valued at $163 million this past November, that may present a serious problem.

This becomes an NHL-wide issue when considering the one of the major purposes of instituting the salary cap back in 05-06; parity.  The salary cap, in essence, prevents one team from offering such huge contracts that there is no hope for smaller markets to match.  Thus, teams like the Detroit Red Wings of the '90s would be prevented from acquiring high priced talent that other teams just could not afford.

Shea Weber's deal is certainly not unique (Weber's long-time partner Suter also has a ridiculous front-loaded deal), however, the Predators essentially have their hands tied by the Flyers.  Surely, Weber is worth the money of the contract offer, but the question is how he should earn it.  If the Predators cannot afford to pay 16% of the team value within 11 months to their captain, then they have to let him walk for what is sure to be a series of late first round draft picks (which will do wonders for that market).  Or they can work out a trade, though, the wind is out of their sail, and they lose their bargaining chip. 

The problem with this offer sheet is neither with the contract length nor its dollar amount (though, the former may be changed in the upcoming CBA).  The problem is that it is so heavily front loaded, both circumventing the salary cap as well as bullying small markets.  As previously mentioned, a team without deep pockets simply may not be able to afford to pay the cash to a player up front.

Weber's deal, however it plays out, will certainly be discussed heavily in the next round of negotiations between players and owners.  Owners surely do not want to let the face of their franchise walk because they cannot afford to pay him - though a long term deal like Nicklas Backstrom's, whose salary increases as he reaches his prime, still are high dollar amounts, they are not front-loaded, which allows owners to plan around payments much easier.

For fans of teams like the Predators, if nothing changes, then the NHL is no better than the MLB.  The Pirates were, for years, the farm team of the Yankees, and received plenty of compensatory draft picks.  Do we want the same thing to happen in the NHL?  This is a chance for the owners to put up or shut up.  You want long-term, front loaded contracts done with?  Well this is your chance.  If nothing is done, then expect to see a lot more poaching in the next few years.  Edmonton may get hit pretty hard by that one.

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