Waiting on Weber

With no last minute deal to avoid arbitration, Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators met behind closed doors with an arbiter in Toronto on Tuesday morning for the purpose of slapping a value on the Norris finalist for the next season or two. It’s not the route that David Poile and the Predators desired, but their captain will emerge from the process under contract all the same… albeit for a shorter term than the team would have wanted.

The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper on the two sides meeting and future implications:

Weber’s agents, from Titan Sports Management, and the Predators were in Toronto in advance of today’s hearing, and it is believed the two sides met. Neither side was allowed to speak with reporters about the hearing once briefs were filed, 48 hours in advance.

If Weber and the Predators were to go through an arbitration hearing, the restricted free agent would receive either a one- or two-year award. A one-year award is believed to be advantageous to Weber, because it would give him more financial flexibility going into next season.

Weber will not be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2012-13 season. And though he technically will be Predators property for the next two seasons, going through arbitration could have tough long-term negative effects for the team and its relationship with Weber.

For the purpose of speculating on valuation, most observers are offering Weber’s 2003 draft class blue line peers Dion Phaneuf ($6.5 million), Brent Seabrook ($5.8 million) and Brent Burns’ new five-year $28.8 ($5.76 cap hit effective 2012-13) as measuring sticks. Phaneuf’s contract is grossly inflated, but was a gift from the management brilliance that was Darryl Sutter in Calgary. That said, Weber will likely net somewhere between Seabrook/Burns territory and Phaneuf money, possibly upwards of $7+ million.

The fact that a deal could not be struck in advance of today’s arbitration hearing has Predators fans worried about Weber’s future in Nashville. Dirk Hoag of the Predators blog OnTheForecheck on the situation and what the future may hold:

Teams and players that go through this process tend not to stick together long-term. In Preds history, Denny Lambert was traded just days after his hearing, and Ville Koistinen was gone a year after his. Daniel Winnick was traded by Phoenix within a year of his award in 2009, as was Milan Jurcina in Washington and Blake Wheeler (2010) in Boston.

The uncomfortable, but natural question coming out of all this is whether the Shea Weber era in Nashville might end before it even got rolling.

Given the point that’s been reached, is this the guy the Preds really want wearing the “C”? Does he even want it? And what does this mean for the prospect of locking up Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne as well?

I’m not trying to be alarmist, but arbitration most often signals the beginning of the end of a player-team relationship, and it’s stunning to see the Predators and their captain get to this point.

Certainly not the best way this situation could have played out, but here we are.

You can bet the L.A. Kings and Drew Doughty’s camp will keep a close eye on how Weber’s hearing plays out. Talks between the Kings and Doughty have stalled, but once Weber’s salary is determined it wouldn’t be surprising to see things heat up on the Doughty front.

Update: As per reports, Shea Weber has asked for one-year deal at $8.5 million and the team countered with $4.75 (seriously!?). As Elliotte Friedman and others have alluded to on Twitter, it’s more likely a strategic maneuver by the Predators than a slap in the face to their team captain. Still, not a great start to the process and it’s looking like this could get rockier.

More to come…