Flyers sign defenseman Shea Weber to offer sheet

Posted: July 20, 2012

Hoping to add a physical, dominating defenseman to replace the injured Chris Pronger, the Flyers have made one of their typically bold off-season moves.

They confirmed Thursday that they have signed Shea Weber - a restricted free agent from Nashville who is arguably the NHL's best all-around defenseman - to a 14-year offer sheet for a reported $110 million.

If Nashville matches the front-loaded offer, Weber, 26, remains with the Predators. The Predators, who lost all-star defenseman Ryan Suter to free agency earlier this month, have until 11:30 p.m. Wednesday to match.

Let the waiting game begin.

After a rather uneventful offseason in which they were rejected by the league's two marquee free agents, it turns out the Flyers' Plan B was more meaningful than signing Ruslan Fedotenko and Bruno Gervais.

And much more meaningful.

Fact is, the Flyers hope Weber ends up in orange and black and becomes the successor to Pronger, the future Hall of Famer whose career may be over because of post-concussion syndrome.

The focus now turns to Nashville general manager David Poile, who is on the clock. In a statement released through the team, Poile sent mixed signals.

"We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea," he said. "Our ownership has provided us with the necessary resources to build a Stanley Cup-winning team."

But Poile seemed to backpedal a bit when he added: "Due to the complexity of the offer sheet, we will take the appropriate time to review and evaluate it and all the ramifications in order to make the best decision for the Predators in both the short and long term."

The owner of one of the league's hardest shots, the 6-foot-4, 232-pounder Weber had 19 goals and anchored the Predators' stellar defense last season.

The righthanded-shooting Weber scored 10 power-play goals last season, had a plus-21 rating, and was a runner-up for the Norris Trophy, given to the league's top defenseman.

"Great player and great leader," said Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, who was Weber's teammate in the world juniors in 2005 and the International Ice Hockey Federation's world championships in 2009. "He has a lot on his resumé, and any team would view him as an important piece."

If the Preds don't match the offer, the Flyers would have to give Nashville four first-round picks - reasonable for a player of Weber's stature.

There is a chance Nashville will try to work out a trade with the Flyers in exchange for not matching the offer sheet. In that instance, the Flyers would send Nashville the four No. 1 picks, and the Predators might give some back in a deal for players.

In a similar scenario in 1997, the Flyers signed Tampa Bay's Chris Gratton to a five-year, $16.5 million offer sheet. Technically, Tampa did not match the offer, then traded back to the Flyers the four first-round draft picks Philadelphia had to give the Lightning as compensation for signing Gratton.

In return, Tampa Bay received Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis.

Asked where he expected Weber to play, Kevin Epp, one of the defenseman's agents, said he "would not be surprised one way or the other."

Weber's $110 million price tag is $30 million more than Nashville paid to join the NHL in 1997.

According to his agent, Weber signed the Flyers' offer sheet because "he felt it was the right fit. He didn't just sign for the money. He wants a chance to win a Stanley Cup."

After losing Suter, the Predators seem further from being a major Cup challenger than the Flyers.

Epp said Weber, who toured the Flyers' facilities a couple of weeks ago, was impressed with the club's history, management, and ownership.

"There were a whole bunch of factors," he said, adding that Weber considered Philadelphia "a destination place."

The agent also said that the fact Weber was teammates with the Flyers' Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen in Nashville made him feel "comfortable" and factored into his decision, and that he was "pretty certain" the defenseman had talked with Hartnell before deciding to sign the offer sheet.

After the season, the Flyers had said it was "highly unlikely" the team would make an offer to Weber, the Predators' captain. That changed after the Flyers struck out with standout free agents Zach Parise and Suter. Both signed 13-year, $98 million deals with Minnesota on July 4.

NHL owners are trying to put a stop to mega long-term contracts. They want the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to limit contracts to five years.

It would be shocking, however, if the NHL Players' Association agreed to that limit. The CBA expires Sept. 15.

Epp conceded that the uncertainty over the new CBA "and whether there will be new rules" made a long-term deal attractive.

The Flyers' deal with Weber is heavily loaded with up-front money - a reported $68 million in the first five years. Will Nashville, a small-market team, be able to afford such a hit?

Then again, can Nashville afford not to sign Weber and further alienate its fans after failing to keep Suter? (Of the seven offer sheets that have been signed since 2005, six of the teams matched and retained their player's rights.)

According to multiple reports, Weber would receive $14 million in each of the first four seasons, and $12 million in the fifth and sixth years, followed by $6 million per season in years seven to 10. He would get $3 million in his 11th year, and $1 million in each of his last three seasons.

TSN's Darren Dreger said Nashville was trying to work out a deal for Weber, but it is "believed several deadlines passed before the Flyers grew tired of waiting and Weber signed the offer sheet."

  The Tennessean reported that, in addition to visiting Philadelphia, Weber checked out facilities in Detroit, San Jose, and New York (the Rangers).

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, known for his bold moves, would not comment on the signing.

Epp, the agent, acknowledged that Weber would enjoy becoming a Flyer, but that he would still feel comfortable if he returned to Nashville.

"He's had a successful career in Nashville and it's home, so it's not a place where he doesn't think he can't finish his career," Epp said.

Because of the amount of money in the deal, Epp said he thought the Predators would make an "ownership decision, not a management decision" on whether to retain Weber.

If the Flyers land Weber, they would probably have the league's best defense, one that might look like this: Weber and Timonen, his former Nashville teammate; Coburn and Nick Grossmann; and Andrej Meszaros and Luke Schenn.

Gervais, Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Andreas Lilja would be among the candidates for the extra D-man spot.

By giving an offer sheet to Weber, the Flyers are, in a roundabout way, saying what everyone has feared - that Pronger's Hall of Fame career is probably over because of a concussion.

With Weber, the Flyers would become instant Stanley Cup contenders.

Without him, they have not improved from the team that was eliminated in the second round of last season's playoffs.

Contact Sam Carchidi at Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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