Shea Weber (6) and the Nashville Predators sat down for an arbitration hearing on Tuesday. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
I wasn't in Shea Weber's arbitration hearing on Tuesday, so I don't know what was said.
But I can tell you what other teams/agents are saying: For the first time, they think the Predators are really in trouble with Weber. There was always a recognition that dealing with all three of Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne was going to be impossible, but, assumed the captain was priority number one.
None of the particulars (Weber, agents Kevin Epp/Jarrett Bousquet, Predators GM David Poile, AGM Paul Fenton or directory of hockey operations Brian Poile) were talking afterward. What we do know is that Weber submitted $8.5 million US as his objective and the Predators offered $4.75 million. The arbitrator has 48 hours to choose a number, and it does NOT have to be either submission.
That's undoubtedly why Nashville picked that low figure. While it would make him the highest paid player on the roster, that's far below market value. But it gives the arbitrator plenty of room below the agents' number, which would make Weber the highest paid defenceman in the NHL by average salary. (In actual cash Christian Ehrhoff will make $10 million next season. Ehrhoff's contract, or, say, Mike Komisarek's, cannot be used as a comparable in Weber's arbitration because they are UFA deals.)
What does all of this mean? God knows, and maybe He's confused, too.
But, as one agent said, "This is the strategy for a player who wants to leave."
When Blake Comeau signed with the Islanders later Tuesday night, it meant only two of 2011's 24 potential cases actually went in front of a judge (so to speak). One was Weber. The other was Chris Campoli, a pre-arranged deal intended as a quickie divorce.
Here's the really alarming thing for Predators fans: Getting to this point is a bad omen. Since the lockout ended, I counted 203 arbitration filings. How many settled beforehand? Almost 84 per cent - 170 of them.
And captains going this route? Very rare. Since the lockout ended, there's been one other: Daniel Briere (who shared the Sabres' "C" with Chris Drury in 2006). He left the following summer as an unrestricted free agent.
There's a reason both sides try hard to avoid this process, particularly since Weber had to hear how he deserves to be the NHL's 26th-highest paid defencemen next season.
"I'd like to hear how that was argued," one source said.
It was reported that Weber is the first player to be taken to arbitration by a team since clubs were given that right in the latest CBA. He's actually the third. The Panthers did it with Roberto Luongo and San Jose with Alexander Korolyuk, both in 2005. (Korolyuk decided to go back to Russia, and the hearing was cancelled.)
Luongo never forgave Florida for doing it. And there's real danger this will damage the relationship between the team and the player. Of those 33 who went to a hearing, 23 were gone 365 days later. That list includes Luongo and Mike Cammalleri, traded because they were angered by the process.
Ryan Malone stayed two more years and Jay Bouwmeester three, but bolted the moment they hit unrestricted free agency.
The true success stories? Brooks Laich, who just signed a six-year extension with Washington (hearing in 2007); Trent Hunter, who was traded by the Islanders four years after his showdown; Adam Mair, another four-year guy (in Buffalo), and potentially Jannik Hansen, who won his case last season, and just agreed to a new three-year deal in Vancouver.
However, word is the entire Nashville organization is "astonished" it's gotten to this point.
There is a feeling around the league that Weber's contract discussions are going poorly, and you'd have to believe that's true based on these developments. I don't believe for a second Nashville's contract offers are anywhere near $4.75 million. It sounds like the organization is offering above $7 million on a term anywhere between three and seven years. But, several people who know Weber say this is not about money.
It's about winning. The Predators, in a lot of ways, are a model organization. They get the most out of their money with great coaching and development. But there is a limit. Nine of Weber's similarly aged (or younger) teammates on the gold medal-winning Olympic team have a Stanley Cup ring. That's not lost on him.
Even with last year's historic playoff success, Nashville was 10 wins away from the ultimate victory.
Weber's said several times he wants to stay and will get a deal done. But people who are much smarter than I am say this indicates otherwise. It's almost like he's putting them on notice: a "show me now" message.
I highly doubt Nashville will trade him in the near future. They've still got his rights for two more seasons. And Poile's first priority above all else is to re-sign Weber, perhaps even at gunpoint. But, for the first time, Weber is hitting his organization as hard as he hits opponents.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?