Top Shelf: Flyers, Weber put serious pressure on Preds

Back in 2007, the Nashville Predators were sold for $193 million. Now, the Predators will have to decide if the face of their franchise is worth more than half that amount.

That's because the Philadelphia Flyers signed Shea Weber -- Nashville's captain and one of the NHL's best all-around defenseman -- to a heavily frontloaded offer sheet on Thursday and now the Predators have seven days to match that deal. If they don't, the Flyers will get the 26-year-old Weber for the long haul while Nashville will receive four first-round draft picks as compensation.

One would think that it'd be an easy decision for the Predators to match the reported 14-year, $110 million deal the Flyers worked out with Weber, but things aren't that simple for the small-market club. Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren figured a deal structured to pay Weber the bulk of his money over the first six years that would put the cash-strapped Predators in a bind and he may wind up being right.

According to reports, the deal Weber agreed to with the Flyers would pay him $68 million in signing bonuses and he would receive $80 million over the first six years of the contract. As one of the richer teams in the NHL, Philadelphia would have no problem handing over such a large portion of the money due to Weber in the first few years of the deal. But Nashville always has struggled to compete with the big spenders so there is a feeling that the Preds may be out of their depth when it comes to matching Philadelphia's offer.

Still, we don't really know the specifics surrounding Nashville's current financial state and therefore it's folly to speculate on what they can or can't afford to pay. We do know that Nashville currently has the lowest payroll in the NHL ($40.8 million according to and that the club will need to spend at least $13.4 million to get above the league's cap floor. That means even if Nashville decided to match Philadelphia's offer to Weber, which comes with an annual cap hit of $7.9 million, the Preds would still be $5.5 million under the league's cap minimum.

For that reason alone, it seems more likely that Nashville will choose to match Philadelphia's offer sheet and retain Weber's services. On top of needing to spend more money to get above the floor, the Predators also have public relations to think about when making this decision. After all, the team already lost defenseman Ryan Suter to free agency earlier this summer when he signed a 13-year. $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild.

Losing a pair of All-Star defensemen in the span of several weeks could be devastating for a franchise that has always faced an uphill battle in selling hockey to a small market city in the southern part of the United States. Part of the reason Nashville has had any success at all in building a fan base for hockey is that the club has qualified for the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons. The dynamic top pairing of Weber and Suter, who both broke into the NHL with the Predators in 2005-06, is one of the main reasons Nashville has become a playoff mainstay.

Yet, despite qualifying for the playoffs on a budget year in and year out the Predators have only won two postseason series since entering the league as an expansion team in 1998-99. According to Weber's agent, Jarrett Bousquet, who spoke to TSN Radio 1050 about the offer sheet, Nashville's inability to re- sign Suter caused Weber to worry that the Predators are closer to rebuilding than gearing up for a Stanley Cup title run.

"When things changed in Nashville and we felt that everything was set back a year or two and it looked to be more of a rebuilding situation," Bousquet told TSN. "We thought we'd just take our time. In that time frame -- in three or four days -- other teams exercised their rights under the CBA to contact us and make some offers."

While the loss of Weber would be a huge blow for Nashville, the Flyers are hoping that landing the big defensemen could get the franchise its elusive third Stanley Cup title. Philadelphia is already stacked with young talented players like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds. Holmgren hopes that by adding Weber to that mix could be the missing piece that lands Philly its first Cup since winning the second of back-to-back titles in the spring of 1975.

The Flyers though they added that piece when they traded for defenseman Chris Pronger in the summer of 2009. However, the 37-year-old Pronger, who did help the Flyers reach the Cup Finals in the spring of 2010, suffered a season- ending concussion last November and it is feared that he have played his last NHL game.

In fact, if there was any doubt Pronger's career is in serious jeopardy, the massive offer sheet sent to Weber ended it. After all, Pronger has an annual cap hit of $4.9 that runs through the 2016-17 season. It seems unlikely that the Flyers would be expecting Pronger to return and still dangle such a big deal in front of Weber, who has often drawn comparisons to Pronger over his career.

The Predators and general manager David Poile have until 11:59 p.m. (et) on Wednesday to match Philadelphia's offer sheet for the two-time Norris Trophy finalist. It could wind up being the most important decision the franchise has ever had to make and ultimately it could determine whether or not the team is able to stay in Nashville.

Quite simply, if the Preds can afford this contract then they have to choose to keep Weber. Even if he request a trade two years down the line, the club needs to commit to their franchise player now, or run the risk of losing its fragile fan base forever.