At the end of the 1989-90 NHL season, the Washington Capitals had one of the NHL’s best young defensive pairings – Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher. Both players were homegrown, drafted by the Capitals in 1982 and 1984 respectively. Stevens was a restricted free agent at the end of the season and signed an offer sheet with the the St. Louis Blues, making him the highest paid defenseman in the league. The Capitals’ general manager, David Poile, refused to match the offer, believing that the team could survive without Scott Stevens and build the defensive corps around Hatcher.
After leaving Washington, Stevens would go on to win 3 Stanley Cups as the captain of the New Jersey Devils, win a Conn Smythe Trophy and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. The Capitals, on the other hand, would only make it out of the first round of the playoffs twice in the next 8 seasons after Stevens’ offer sheet was not matched. In addition, Poile traded Hatcher away to Dallas in 1994.
Poile, meanwhile, was fired in 1997 after the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in his 15 year tenure. However, the beginning of the end came in 1990 when he failed to re-sign Stevens. As Stevens’ rocket continued to fly higher and higher, the failure to match his offer began to look worse and worse. While Hatcher performed well in Stevens’ absence, the fact that Poile essentially bet on the wrong horse basically stamped an expiration date on his time in Washington. In addition, the fact that Hatcher failed to develop into the same sort of elite defenseman as Stevens (despite putting up some ridiculous offensive numbers) basically sealed the deal.
In the 21 years since, Poile’s failure to retain Scott Stevens has largely been forgotten due to the fact that he has essentially built the Predators from the ground-up. His Predators teams fit into the same sort of mold that his Capitals teams fit. Like Poile’s Capitals, the Predators are perennial playoff contenders despite lacking too much flash and pizazz. Even the star players that he has let walk out the door – Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Paul Kariya - were excusable due to circumstances outside of his control.
However, Poile heads into Shea Weber’s potential arbitration in a very similar situation to 1990. Weber and Ryan Suter are arguably the best defensive pairing in the NHL and both have impending contract expirations. The Predators are not in any sort of known financial trouble and should be able to resign both players to reasonable contracts without “breaking the bank”. If the Predators actually make it to the hearing with Weber without resigning him, it could basically be a “doomsday” scenario. Weber will have a choice between signing a one-year or a two-year contract. If Weber selects a one-year contract, would it put the writing on the wall is that he has no intention of resigning with Nashville after next season? If anyone is going to have an offer sheet put before them, it will be Shea Weber, which is why the Predators pre-emptively sent him to arbitration this year. How would a short term deal affect the perception of Ryan Suter? Furthermore, with Pekka Rinne also a free agent next season, would he resign with a team that would seemingly not show a commitment to their star player despite seemingly having the room to do it? While the best case scenario is that Weber signs before arbitration, if the case actually makes it to arbitration and Weber elects a two year deal, it at least provides hope for both the future of the team and the future of David Poile by pushing back the contract negotiations until after Suter’s and Rinne’s. However, a two-year deal would also make Weber an unrestricted free agent at its expiration.
Poile lost an elite defenseman once when he thought he could afford to lose him and it ultimately cost him his job. The big question is, can he afford to risk it a second time? Will Shea Weber be Poile’s next Scott Stevens…or will he be Poile’s first Shea Weber?