For Nashville Predators' fans, this summer has been like an old fashioned country or western song. Instead of hearing about getting drunk, or their wife / girlfriend leaving them or their dog or horse dying Predators fans were treated to a summer where their top two defenseman Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Losing Suter, an unrestricted free agent wasn't quite as surprising, but the big offer sheet by the Philadelphia Flyers to Weber who is an restricted free agent was a bit more of a surprise placing the organization in an awkward position. Does it match the offer sheet which could put the future viability of the franchise in peril or does it allow Weber to leave for a large ransom of draft choices but in the meantime leaves a giant void in their squad and may leave its fans wondering if they will always be a pretender and not a contender? I have no doubt this has been the toughest week for Nashville General Manager David Poile who has been with the organization since its inception. The way Predators fans view the direction of this franchise as well as Poile (despite all of his relative success) will likely be decided by this outcome.
Is it good night for the Predators' as a franchise in the wake of all these summer moves?
Letter writing campaigns, frustrated fans calling in to NHL Home Ice radio shows are all giving signs of just how dire the situation is. Since this franchise arrived in the NHL in 1998, it has seen its fair share of drama off the ice. From the threat of re-location during the sale by current Wild owner Craig Leipold or the scandal of part owner William 'Boots' Del Biaggio Predators fans have stuck close to their team. They have become a rowdy and passionate fanbase but will the events of this summer keep them singing along with Tim McGraw's "I like it, I love it, I want some more of it" or will they change tunes and be singing Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" instead?
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(cue huge sigh of relief) The sigh you just heard was the sound of Predators fans being relieved over the news that their team matched Philadelphia's offer which will make the former Kelowna Rocket an average of $12.5 million per season until 2018. Not too shabby.
Why am I writing an article about the Predators? My next favorite team beyond the Wild are the Predators and both organizations share a number of connections to one another. The list of players that have been on both clubs is fairly long and includes Sergei Krivokrasov, Andrew Brunette, Sebastien Bordeleau, Jeremy Stevenson, Sergei Zholtok, Cliff Ronning, J.J. Daigneault, Shane Hnidy, Brad Bombardir, Adam Hall, Peter Olvecky, Randy Robitaille, Jason Morgan, Wyatt Smith, Joel Ward, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and soon to be joined by Ryan Suter. Don't forget about Craig Leipold, I can assure you Predators fans have not. In fact one poster over at the Nashville Predators message boards frequently referred to the current Wild owner as Craig 'Liarpold' so needless to say the feelings are pretty strong.
What do Predators fans think of this summer they've found themselves in? I asked 3 Predators fans a series of questions about their thoughts in the days spent waiting for the team's announcement / non-announcement of whether they were going to match Philadelphia's offer sheet to Shea Weber. The thoughts of these fans from the predators.com message boards are candid and honest. This should provide a nice feeling for the pulse and mindset of a fanbase. I should point out that some of these responses came BEFORE Nashville decided to match the offer and the responses kind of reflect that which should illustrate the mindset.
1. When you first heard the Flyers made a 14-year, $110 million contract offer for Shea Weber what were your initial thoughts? Did you think he was going to be leaving for sure at that point or did you expect Nashville to match?
Jim-np1: My initial thoughts were that Weber was moving on. As soon as I saw the deal, the years and the dollars, being a Predator fan since year one, the organization has never really paid that much for any player and frankly I can't see them paying the amount being asked now. He is more than likely a Flyer and at this point, frankly I don't want anyone on the Predators, who doesn't want to be there.
Lacheta78: I really thought the Flyers were just trying to "out-muscle" a "perceived" small market team by offering a large portion of the contract in up-front money. I think the 110-115 million range is worth it for a D-man of Weber's caliber, but the way the contract was structured from Philly was intended to put the Preds in a financial bind, not a bind of whether or not they wanted to keep Shea Weber. I always thought that Nashville had no choice but at the end of the day to match the sheet. They were an insane amount below the current proposed cap floor and would have had to make a few out of place signings even to get to the floor at that point.
Predarat5: At first I thought the Flyers did the Preds a favor by doing their job for them, that was around what I was expecting, Suter got 13 years so it would make sense Weber would get another year plus more money. Once I saw the up front money involved my hope went down a bit. That is alot of money to come up in a short period of time. I know they had some of it ready, but that was alot.
2. Could the Nashville Predators still be good without Shea Weber (possibly) and Ryan Suter? Or is this team in a major and desperate rebuild mode now?
Jim-np1: In my heart I want to believe this team will still compete night in and night out, but losing the top two defensive players on your roster will have a profound impact. Rinne is a great goaltender. He was partily great because of the D-men in front of him, but both Suter and Weber also had the benefit of having Rinne behind them. While all three were great players, all three will likely see some drop off from not having one another, but they will still all be great players.
Lacheta78: Suter is an easier fix because Weber will make whomever he is playing with much better, which all signs point to Roman Josi right now who could turn out to be the next Ryan Suter, we will just have to wait and see as a fan base.
Predarat5: They would be good, as in decent good. They would probably be fighting for a lower level playoff spot or have a near miss. Somewhere between 7-11 in the Western Conference standings. As far as rebuilding it would have been a semi-rebuild a lot like 07/08, 08/09, 09/10 for the Predators, a good competitive team that can skate with any team on most nights.
3. Do you think the loss of possibly Weber and Suter will doom NHL hockey in Nashville? Will the fans stop showing up because of this?
Jim-np1: It does have the potential to have a very negative impact at the gate. If Nashville fails to match the offer, the perception right or wrong in Nashville will be that they will always be just a team that gets by, will never have a solid core of players to rely on because every time they groom a player, someone will swoop in and steal him. So by not signing him only negative things can happen, nothing positive at all. It won't matter what they do with the 4 first round picks, it won't matter if Philadelphia trades two players back for two of those picks. There are no players that will equal the perception that Nashville will never compete on the big stage.
Lacheta78: You were always going to have the diehard 11-13K per night that are going to show up to the arena to watch the Preds. It is those new casual fans, Nashville transplants, and new hockey fans in general that playoff runs help inspire to buy season tickets and turn into those "diehard" types. I don't think they were ever doomed even if they didn't sign Weber, but it would have been a quick step back for at least this upcoming season.
Predarat5: It would have probably caused the loss of some fans, what they did to replace them and the results could get some of them back. But I do not think attendance would have been as good as the past two seasons.
4. Has this affected your loyalty to the Predators as a fan? Does it make you question your franchise's ability to win and retain top level players?
Jim-np1: No it doesn't. I will always be a Predator fan. There is nothing that will ever make me not be a fan. Will it effect how many games I may watch sure. I know in the early years, while I loved the games, there was nothing worse than leaving the arena being outplayed night, after night after night. It never made me question my loyalty or the way I spent my entertainment dollars. Losing Weber doesn't mean they will never make the playoffs again, it just seriously puts to question of they will ever be more than a first round team.
Lacheta78: This is the part that can be frightening as a fan. You want players to love the city and want to come here. Nashville is a great town regardless of it is had any sports franchises at all, and you want players around the league to have a desire to play here. The tough part is that you probably do not have that much local grown talent like Minnesota, Michigan, and the Northeast so this will rarely be "back home" for a player and we do not have the banners from the rafters...yet.
Predarat5: Depends on the definition of loyalty, I do not have alot of 'extra spending' type money, and alot of what I do have goes towards the Preds. I would not stop going to games but would probably have to cut down some of the games I go to. But as far as my fandom it will not change that I am and will be a Predators fan. If they had lost Weber it would make me question that pretty hard. It would make me believe the team would be the KC Royals of the NHL. Get players good and other teams get them.
5. What are your thoughts on General Manager David Poile? Has he handled this as well as anyone could after being put in this difficult situation or has he been part of the problem? Is he just the victim of being caught in a Catch-22?
Jim-np1: David Poile has a job to do, sometimes it's not his call. Many times, even when Leipold was here it was always his call where the dollars went, just as it's the current ownership group that makes the call. Poile can only provide his view to the owners on whether he would do it or not, but ultimately it's them. Now, with this situation, he is caught in a no win situation. He matches and the Predators risk never being able to build around him to the degree they need to. They don't sign him and the perception will always be negative. My biggest complaint about Poile was how he handled last off season. Arbitration was the wrong way to go, they should have paid the man his value, as they should have Suter. In both cases it was the lack of action that caused this whole situation, and again it may have been the ownership and not Poile that made the call. The owners were likely hoping to get some resolution on a new CBA that would be more small market friendly.
Lacheta78: He bungled it from the onset by having this go to arbitration with Weber last offseason. Should have never got that far. This offer we just signed for around 110, maybe structured differently, should have been on the table last year, and maybe it was I guess we don't know. With Suter, you should have put him to the fire a bit with an ultimatum and trade him if he didn't want to be here. Clearly he knew in November and just wanted to eek on a Stanley Cup playoff run and see where it went. Poile got duped and it hurt the franchise.
Predarat5: To me its a little bit of both. He seems to sit on his hands and struggles to deal with high end talent. But if you need someone to put a bunch of scrap heap players and make them competitive and a contender to get into the playoffs when on paper it looks like they should not, David Poile is your man. He excels at that, and that is not an easy job to do. But the question is now that Nashville is getting to the point they need to advance deeper into the playoffs, is he capable of that?
6. Do you think the Predators will make the playoffs next season? If not, how long do you think it will take before the Predators to be a playoff contender again? If so, why will they make it?
Jim-np1: Losing the two players they have, I would say it would be very difficult to reach the playoffs. A lot of things would have to go right, namely Rinne having a year like he has never had before. Without Suter and Weber, this team at best would probably put up 76-80 points next season, which is a 24 point swing. If they miss the next year, it may be 3 to 5 years before they make that run due to the situation that has happened and the likely event that Nasvhille will not attract the top ranked players, which means they will have to rely on their minors and player development for a long time to come.
Lacheta78: They will make the playoffs because they are capable of playing smart hockey within a system that is built for an 82 marathon. Unfortunately that same system can get caught in defunct streaks that can lead to being ousted from the playoffs. While Poile may have saved his job, I think Trotz deserves to be on the hot-seat. Id look for 95 points and a 7 or 8 seed. You have Pekka who will always keep you in games. A decent D in front of him and essentially the same impact forwards from last season. Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, and Sergei Kostitsyn are a formidable front line when they are clicking. You have a lot of grinders and a few young players that will contribute, Craig Smith will likely have a chance for a solid sophomore campaign.
Predarat5: I think they will. Without Weber they would probably have been on the bubble for a low end spot, a few key injurys however and they could be put out of that mix. If they had lost Weber it would have probably taken 3-4 seasons to get back into it. 2 if some of the young defensemen in the Preds system take off faster then expected.
7. What were your initial thoughts that the team matched Philadelphia's offer sheet? Do you think Weber will be happy the team matched, and do you think if he does have ill-will, will it affect his performance? Could you see Weber pulling a Rick Nash and demanding a trade? Should fans outside of Nashville take this as a sign the Predators are a healthy market, or was this an act of desperation by the franchise?
Jim-np1: I was excited to see the Predators actually take a stand and not lose on a highly talented player, that was good for the fan base to see that level of commitment. Whether he is happy or not with the fact that the Predators matched, I feel he personally isn't. I think it was his desire to play for Philadelphia, and I think Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell may have factored into that somewhat. If he has ill-will on this it will only effect him and how he is viewed over time. If he is the professional he believes he is, he will perform to the level that is now expected of him. I could see him pulling a Nash if the Predators fail to give him the additional support he needs to get to the Stanley Cup finals. If the Predators don't make it to the Stanley Cup by the time he is 29 or 30 I could see the demand for a trade. I don't believe Nashville is a completely healthy market, nor do I believe this move will bankrupt the organization. Only time will tell if it is the right move or not, but I believe the Predators had to make it not because Weber guarantees them a Cup, but because without him, the fan base may have lost faith in management causing even a more severe loss of revenue.
Lacheta78: They are healthy and could afford it or they would not have done it. I think the 08 Preds let him walk in 3 seconds and take the draft picks and that is how the franchise has grown in the city. Corporate sponsorship is up, sell outs are up, back to back 2 round playoff runs...it is something to build on. I think deep down Weber would have been happy in either place. If he demands a trade in a year, and he is really that unhappy.... Nashville will able to get a MINT for him at least triple what they would have gotten from Philly via the draft picks. So either way I think the franchise is in a better state having signed him. We will see one way or another.
Predarat5: I was very very happy, it felt awesome. It was like the Predators showed the NHL and sports world that are not just some damn farm team. In my opinion if he wanted out he would have filed for arbitration and a 1 year deal. In my opinion if he wanted out he would have filed for arbitration and a 1 year deal. I think they should be perceived as a healthy market anyways, but losing 2/3 of the 'big guys' would not have been good for their image.