Flyers sign Shea Weber to $110 million, 14-year offer sheet

Shea Weber, 26, could play for the Flyers until he's 40. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Shea Weber, 26, could play for the Flyers until he's 40. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: July 20, 2012

NOT SINCE the waiting game of 1992, as an arbitrator sorted out dueling trades between the Flyers and Rangers for the rights to draft phenom Eric Lindros, has there been this much buzz about a potential player joining Philadelphia's storied hockey ranks.

As first announced by TSN's Darren Dreger on Wednesday night, the Flyers signed Nashville star defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet. The deal is worth a reported $110 million over 14 years, which would make Weber the second-richest player in NHL history after only Alex Ovechkin's mammoth $124 million deal.

The only thing left to figure out is whether Weber will receive that big coin from Philadelphia or Nashville.

Nashville has 7 calendar days – until 11:59 p.m. next Wednesday – to match the deal for the market's marquee restricted free agent.

If the Predators decide not to match, or do not acknowledge the offer sheet within that window, Weber will be a Flyer. The Flyers would then owe four first-round draft picks in consecutive years to Nashville, depending on his actual total dollar figure.

If the Predators do match the Flyers' offer, they would be locked in at the exact same term and dollar amount, unable to trade him for a year. The Flyers will not be penalized if Nashville matches Weber's offer.

The Flyers have acknowledged Weber signed an offer sheet, but declined to comment further.

The two sides are not allowed to negotiate a trade at this point. Weber will play for either the Flyers or Predators next season.

According to Rogers Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, the Flyers have structured the contract offer in a way that it may be impossible for small-market Nashville to match. Weber would be due $13 million in signing bonuses for each of the first 4 years, in addition to a $1 million annual salary, meaning that he will clear $56 million in less than 4 years.

Since signing bonuses are usually paid out in a lump sum on July 1 before the season of play, the Predators would be required to pay Weber $27 million within the next 347 days just to match. To put that in perspective, 16.5 percent of Nashville's entire franchise net worth ($163 million as valuated by Forbes magazine in 2011) would be paid out in less than a calendar year by the small-market team.

Signing bonuses are guaranteed money, whether an impending lockout cancels next season or not. For a team with tight purse strings, paying a player for an iced season would be a death knell. One report on Thursday suggested Nashville's gate receipts revenue for all 45 home games last season was only $26 million.

"We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea," Predators general manager David Poile said in a statement. "Our ownership has provided us with the necessary resources to build a Stanley Cup-winning team. Due to the complexity of the offer sheet, we will take the appropriate time to review and evaluate it and all of its ramifications in order to make the best decision for the Predators in both the short and long-term."

Weber, 26, would be signed until he is 40 years old. For a $110 million contract, his salary cap hit would be $7.8 million per year, just slightly more than his $7.5 million hit from last season in Nashville.

For the Flyers, the move makes a lot of sense. Weber is a two-time NHL first team All-Star. He has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy, for the league's best defenseman, multiple times. He is a demanding, durable, physical presence who also contributed 43 points or more from the blue line in each of the last four seasons. And he's a born leader.

Weber is perhaps a better addition on the Flyers' blue line than even a Chris Pronger in his prime. Coincidentally, the move also likely would spell the formal end to Pronger's playing days, since the Flyers would no longer be able to afford his cap hit, should he even decide to skate again.

Plus, Weber would solidify the Flyers' defense corps for years to come. Weber, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Luke Schenn, Nick Grossmann and Bruno Gervais would all be under contract for at least the next two seasons.

Currently, the Flyers have about $12.7 million in cap space available for next season, not including Pronger's $4.91 million, which can be moved to the long-term injury list. That number is based on the temporary cap ceiling of $70.2 million, which could indeed fall once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. The current deal expires Sept. 15, and, with a lockout now looming, the NHL's first proposal at the negotiating table included a cap drop to $64 million for next season. Any of those numbers could limit the Flyers to re-signing restricted free agent Jake Voracek, who is due for a decent raise. Then again, it also could mean that the Flyers would need to stash a larger contract in AHL Adirondack to remain cap-compliant, something they have not been afraid to do in the past. Any one of those outcomes is a happy byproduct to landing Weber.

The Flyers are no stranger to offer sheets for restricted free agents. Only a handful of offer sheets have ever been tendered in league history, but the Flyers signed Chris Gratton from Tampa Bay to one in 1997. The Flyers, also under Bob Clarke, signed Vancouver's Ryan Kesler to one in 2006, though the Canucks chose to match that off-the-wall, 1-year, $1.9 million deal. The Flyers flirted with an offer sheet for Lightning star Steven Stamkos last summer before deciding against it.

The last free agent to sign an offer sheet in the NHL was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. He signed a 4-year, $14 million offer from San Jose on July 9, 2010, but the Blackhawks chose to match the deal only 3 days later.

For Weber, the timing of the signing is interesting. While he might be subject to a significant salary rollback under the next CBA — whenever that is hashed out — he might have also been subject to a term limit of only 5 years in his next contract next summer.

According to Dreger, the Flyers made multiple attempts to try to pry Weber's rights from Nashville. Apparently, they grew tired of the repeated rebuffs from Poile.

For the Predators, losing Weber would decimate the franchise. Nashville already lost Weber's partner, Ryan Suter, to a 13-year, $98 million deal in Minnesota. Goaltender Pekka Rinne, Suter and Weber were considered to be franchise cornerstones — and now two of them could be gone in a matter of weeks. The return for both players would be only four first-round picks.

Keep in mind that Poile and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren have worked out a bevy of trades in the past, ranging from Peter Forsberg to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. The Predators might ultimately agree to let Weber walk, but ask for a package of players in return for sending some of the Flyers' picks back.

It's fair to say that this next week will define the entire Nashville franchise. And, in many ways, the Flyers' Stanley Cup dreams. With Weber, the Flyers will become an instant and credible contender. Weber presents a seismic shift in the Eastern Conference.

Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DNFlyers. For more Flyers coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers.

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