Losing Shea Weber as well as Suter in the same summer could KO the Predators, both on and off the ice. That's why at first glance the decision to match Philadelphia's offer sheet would appear to be a no-brainer.
And if the on-ice impact was the only consideration, Predators general manager David Poile would waste no time doing exactly that. Even at the hefty price of $110 million over 14 years, Weber is too valuable to let go. He's arguably the best all-around defenseman in the league and just entering his prime at age 26.
But this is a business decision as much as a hockey decision, and business isn't exactly booming in Nashville. Forbes valued the Predators franchise at just $163 million last November, ranking it 25th out of the 30 teams in the league.
"The Predators are losing money and trying to find investors to pump in about $25 million to shore up the team's finances," the Forbes report noted. "The Predators have a lot of debt and have been in the bottom-third of the league in attendance for six consecutive seasons."
The Flyers were certainly trying to take advantage of those shaky finances with the way they structured the offer. Weber is scheduled to make $68 million in signing bonuses alone, with $80 million of the total deal due in the first six years. The first four seasons call for a $13 million signing bonus each year along with a salary of just $1 million, with the fifth and six years featuring $8 million signing bonuses and $4 million salaries.
Does Nashville have the ability to come up with that kind of cash? The Predators went into the summer ready to break open the checkbook, as they were in the bidding on Suter right to the end and also made a play for Zach Parise. Suter and Parise ended up with identical 13-year, $98 million deals to join forces in Minnesota. But there's a difference between looking to make a long-term investment in a player and having the resources to cough up the kind of down payment this Weber deal demands.
The Predators may have already been preparing for life without Weber as Nashville was reportedly in talks with several teams about potentially trading the star blueliner. According to TSN's Darren Dreger, who broke the news of the offer sheet late Wednesday night, it was the Flyers' frustration at delays in those talks that led to Philadelphia deciding to go the offer sheet route .
That offer sheet limits Nashville's options considerably. It's one thing to trade Weber for a package of players, prospects and picks that could possibly help fill the void on the roster immediately and set up the Predators for a potential rebuilding project. It's something else entirely to have to part with him only for the offer-sheet compensation, which would be four first-round draft picks. Considering the Flyers first-round pick hasn't been lower than 20th in the last five drafts and they would be even stronger with Weber in the lineup, that's not much of a return.
Nashville also has to worry about the optics of letting Weber go. Playing in a non-traditional market, the Predators already face a challenge in generating interest and support for the club. Take away the two star attractions in one summer without getting back any immediate help in return would make growing the fan base or even retaining the core they have difficult. The message not matching sends is that the team either does not have the resources to truly compete or is unwilling to spend what is necessary to do so.
Nashville faces other issues if they don't match. The Predators are sitting at roughly $40.9 million in cap commitments right now, leaving them over $13 million short of the cap floor. Without Weber, they'll struggle to reach the floor, though that could be a moot point if there are changes in the new CBA.
There's also the not-so-insignificant fact that the Nashville defense is extremely thin already, even without losing Weber. In addition to Suter's departure, the Predators also lost Francis Bouillon and Jack Hillen in free agency to Montreal and Washington, respectively. They are left with Hal Gill, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Klein, Roman Josi and restricted free agent Jonathan Blum on defense, with few attractive options remaining in free agency.
All those considerations will make this a difficult decision for Poile and the Predators. Poile has stated throughout the summer that he would match any offer sheet submitted to Weber. That may have simply been an attempt to dissuade rival GMs from attempting to go that route. Now faced with the reality of the kind of financial commitment his club would have to make to fulfill that promise, it's obvious it is not quite that simple.
Poile acknowledged as much on Wednesday with a statement citing his previous promises to match any offer but noting that the Predators will use the seven days allowed to make a decision to weigh the options.
"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," Poile said.
The problem will be reconciling those two interests. In the long term, the Predators can't afford the hit they'll take on and off the ice by losing Weber. But in the short term, they may simply not be able to afford the up-front costs in Philadelphia's offer.