League and owners look other way

Boom. That was the thud you heard late last night on the East coast when Shea Weber agreed to a 14-year offersheet with the Flyers worth $110 million. As Hasan previously noted, the Predators have the daunting task of deciding whether to match Paul Holmgren’s ridiculous frontloaded contract that’ll pay the league’s best defenseman 27 million in ’12-13. He’ll earn 14 million along with another 13 million in bonuses in the first year.

What would you do if you were Nashville general manager David Poile? He has seven days to either match or accept compensation that would likely include four number one draft picks. Or there’s choice C of perhaps working out a trade that’d allow Philadelphia to complete the transaction. I am of the belief that Poile should stick to his guns, which he laid out from the very beginning. Something he alluded to in direct response to the stunning offer that’s floored the hockey world.

“We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea. 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. We do not anticipate any further comments on this situation until we make our decision within the next seven days.”

Considering that they were shafted by Ryan Suter, who turned down a chance to stay in Music City to play with buddy Zach Parise in Minnesota, you have to think the Predators do have the necessary funds to keep Weber. A game changing player who can dominate games in all facets. Offensively and defensively, he’s the premier blueliner surpassing Zdeno Chara due to age. At 26, he’s in the prime of his career that should include the Norris that went to Erik Karlsson. How voters overlooked Weber’s overall stature is as mystifying as ’93-94 when Ray Bourque won the league’s top defenseman on merit over new Devils assistant Scott Stevens.

Along with Pekka Rinne, Weber is the Preds’ featured star who’s played on a low scoring, defensive oriented team that’s built around him. Having subtracted Suter for an insane 13-year $98 million, it’s hard to see Nashville surviving without the All-Star who is a 20-goal 60-point threat if he plays on a better roster like the Flyers. Maybe that’s why he lost the Norris. All they saw was all of Karlsson’s production for Ottawa, which is also a Canadian market that’s covered more than Barry Trotz’ under the radar club in Tennessee. Everyone knows how special a player Weber is. The kind of difference maker who can supplant Chris Pronger and help the Flyers win their first Cup since 1975. Most expect Pronger to retire due to Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). It’d be a shame for one of the great blueliners of our time to bow out that way but we’ve seen it before.

Apparently, Holmgren had a back up plan allowing Matt Carle to walk for big money in Tampa Bay. Even after swapping James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for Luke Schenn, the Flyers GM is always looking ahead at ways to improve his team. However, they weren’t alone in the Weber pursuit with the much coveted No.1 D also visiting New York City. Apparently, he didn’t like what it had to offer, angering Ranger fans. At least we know that Glen Sather wasn’t smoking a Cuban chasing more fourth liners. The disturbing aspect is it’s not like Philadelphia is a small town. There’s just as much pressure to perform in the City Of Brotherly Love as there is in Manhattan. The Flyers haven’t won since I was born. Rocky Balboa is still the most beloved sports figure along with Secretariat. That includes the Phillies recently winning the World Series.

Maybe Weber is hoping to duck and cover like a cynical league and owners who want to have their cake and eat it. Considering their recent demands of rollbacks that would include cutting player revenue from 57 percent to 46 along with dramatically reducing long-term contracts to five years maximum, it’s no wonder I’m not excited about hockey starting on time. We’ve been here before under indestructible commissioner Gary Bettman, whose salary has increased since the last lockout. It’s not really all on Bettman, who’s best known for locking out the players twice including following the ’94 playoffs when hockey’s popularity was pushing the NBA.

To be blunt, you have to look at the same owners who sign the paychecks. They’re the ones who approve deals so crazy, you wonder if we can give Krazy Eddie a call. Maybe put him back in business just for old-time’s sake. Who didn’t love those commercials that ended with the catch phrase, “Insaa—–nnnnneeeeeeee,?” Those were glory days as The Boss sang in New Jersey for all to hear.

Even crazier is talk of them wanting to ditch arbitration and put players at their mercy. Hopefully, that’s just a silly rumor from an unreliable source. As Dad’s echoed, this isn’t the 60’s. Even if you believe Larry Brooks, who can sometimes be over the top even if most of his Sunday Post columns usually have some good content. Brooks has always been a PA shill. Even if I’m with the players, you have to look at things rationally. Last time, the league needed a salary cap and won after canceling an entire season. Unfortunately, the way the system was set up had loop holes that have been exposed by GMs, who are just as much to blame for the absurd money getting tossed around.

I agree that these ridiculously long contracts must end. You can’t have teams locking up players until the next decade or say 2025. If you want to pin it on someone, look no further than Islander owner Charles Wang who started this revolution pre-lockout with Alexei Yashin and then defied logic post-lockout with future AARP member Rick DiPietro. Ironic that it’s the same organization that’s hard pressed to reach the salary floor whose fans always blame the Rangers or other big markets like the Flyers. If the Rangers were the worst offenders before armageddon, then it’s the Flyers who continue to push the envelope. Their specialty is signing players to huge deals (ie. Richards, Carter, Pronger, Bryzgalov) and then either unloading them or using offersheets like they did with Ryan Kesler and now Weber. The Blues and Canucks traded offers with Vancouver forcing St. Louis to match on David Backes and then the Blues returning the favor on current Devil Steve Bernier. Seriously.

There also was Edmonton who successfully signed away former Duck Dustin Penner, who never duplicated his production and then suddenly rediscovered himself to help the Kings win the Cup playing with Richards and Carter. How fitting. They also offersheeted Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek leading to a threat to do the same to them. You gotta love it. It’s almost like a game of chicken. In the NBA, nobody blinks an eye when players sign offers. Former Knick Jeremy Lin got the Rockets to overpay, even reworking the contract which New York didn’t match. At least executives aren’t supersensitive about a more common practice.

I fail to see how owners can’t see their hypocrisy. Last time, they cried about financial dire straits and Bettman’s favorite term “cost certainty” was passed around like a joint. Unfortunately, the current CBA hasn’t come close to solving the problem. With a cap as high as $70 million which likely could drop to $62 million when a new labor agreement is reached, it allows teams to make room for big free agents. Did anyone ever think the Wild would morph into the Flyers for Parise/Suter? The same owner complained a couple of months prior before leaks came out about how much they were set to offer hometown kid Parise. Tampering?

It’s extremely hard to figure out where things are headed. Especially with Donald Fehr in charge of the NHLPA. He won’t tolerate any crap. I hope he’s learned from the ’94 baseball strike. Nobody wants to lose another season. I don’t really believe we will. There’s too much at stake. Hockey is still way behind the other major sports and is rebuilding its image. Maybe they’ll even find a way to get it done on time and save everyone money on aspirin. 

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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