It’s safe to say that when Shea Weber was drafted – no child in Sicamous, British Columbia, had ever dreamed of playing professional hockey in Nashville.
It’s a little like how no child in Smyrna, Tennesee, has ever been very likely to dream of playing for the Edmonton Eskimos.
Things like that just don’t happen. Not in America…or – in this case – Canada.
The Predators aren’t the newest kid on the block, but they’re that kid’s big brother. The people who dream of playing for the Predators largely learn to skate on West End or Cool Springs – they don’t come from very far off.
When the Predators drafted Weber on their home rink in 2003, he wasn’t even considered their best hope – Ryan Suter was drafted with Nashville’s first pick. In fact, Weber was the third defenseman and fourth player drafted by Nashville in that draft, behind teammate Kevin Klein and Konstantin Glazachev. Glazachev, naturally, is best known as the player who Nashville drafted before Shea Weber.
After that Draft, as is well established by local canon, Nashville went through turmoil and heartache.
After making three straight playoffs, team owner Craig Leipold entered an agreement to sell the team to Blackberry mogul Jim Balsillie. Balsillie, as it turned out, had no interest in keeping the club in the city of Nashville and began selling season tickets in Hamilton, Ontario. Faster than you could say “Mayflower”, Leipold nixed the sale to Balsillie and looked for a buyer who would at least make an attempt to keep the club in the city of Nashville.
Of course, by that time, the damage had been done. During that period of turmoil, the Predators traded off the rights to Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, made no attempt to re-sign Paul Kariya and traded away goaltender Tomas Vokoun just days before his new contract with no-trade clause was to kick in. Leipold – likely unwittingly – had turned his franchise into an agent of chaos. Media in other markets leaped on the Predators, expecting them to move sooner rather than later (for a current comparison, see: Coyotes, Phoenix).
The Nashville fan base became more intimate with their team’s lease, revenue sharing numbers and attendance figures than any other team’s fans in major league sports likely ever had been.
In November of that year, Nashville’s fears appeared to be allayed. A local group of businessmen purchased the team. However, they also allowed William “Boots’ Del Biaggio into their partnership. To give an idea of how well that partnership turned out, Del Biaggio – who had attempted to purchase the team after the Balsillie deal was taken off the table and move them to the hockey hotbed of Kansas City, Missouri, where only one NHL team has failed in to this point – is currently serving an 8-year prison sentence. Obviously, he is no longer a co-owner.
“Relocate” is a word that came up quite a bit with the Predators during this time frame. Those fears have all but disappeared in the past few years, as the franchise has steadily increased its local stake and its attendance since the new ownership took over.
However, going into this offseason – after several seasons of success – Nashville faced a situation similar to the one they faced in 2007…minus the cell phone mogul trying to swoop the team into Southern Ontario. Suter, Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne all faced expiring contracts. This offseason was the first major instance since the Hartnell-Kariya-Timonen offseason that the team had such a crop of extremely valuable commodities that they might not be able to afford to resign. In a bit of early luck and negotiating prowess, Rinne signed a 7-year, $49 million deal in November, which meant the rest of the season could be focused on signing Suter and Weber.
The rest of the season passed.
Suter – the Predators’ only draft pick to ever walk across the stage in the city of Nashville – never signed a contract. He stated repeatedly that he wanted to wait until the offseason. He wanted to test the market…and he did. On July 4, Suter signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild, effectively keeping him in St. Paul for the remainder of his career.
Losing Suter was not helping the Predators in the public relations department. Long ago had Pekka Rinne signed. The “Big 3″ had been the “Big 2″ since the calendar changed. If Nashville lost Weber as well, it was going to be a front-office nightmare.
On July 19, the nightmare appeared to come true as the Philadelphia Flyers signed Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet which paid roughly the Gross National Product of the country of Tuvalu up front. However, on July 24, Nashville matched and – to the elation of the front office – the Predators captain remained the Predators captain.
The questions, however, linger. Weber’s agent Jarrett Bousquet of Titan Sports Management claimed that Weber would not have signed the offer sheet if he did not intend to play in Philadelphia, indicating that Weber did not want to be part of a “rebuild” in Nashville. Of course, Bousquet also claimed that Weber wanted to play in in Philadelphia because it was a “small-town” and claimed that Weber is a “small-town guy” – the “small-town” of Philadelphia being the fifth most-populated city in the United State. Regardless, the questions regarding Weber’s level of commitment will continue to linger for some time. The truth of the matter is that when Shea Weber was a young child, he did not dream of being a Nashville Predator. Considering that the Predators did not exist for the majority of his childhood, it’s a fairly safe assumption to make.
Somewhere down the road, will Shea Weber want out of Nashville? How set was his heart on playing in Philadelphia? Only Shea Weber truly knows these answers and perhaps time will reveal them to everyone else.
In the end, perhaps it will turn out best for the two parties to part ways if one is less than all-in. However, for now, in addition to his on-ice prowess, Weber’s presence elevates fan approval, drives ticket sales and gives a general sense of sustainability for the franchise.
While he may not be the superstar that Nashville deserves, he’s the one that they need right now.