The Nashville Predators could not reach an agreement on a new contract with captain Shea Weber prior to their scheduled club-elected arbitration hearing Tuesday morning, so now it will be up to an independent arbiter to rule on how much the restricted free-agent defenseman is worth.
After hearing 90-minute cases from each side, the arbiter will have 48 hours to render his decision. Weber should have told the arbiter if he wanted a one- or two-year contract award before the hearing began.
The Predators will have to accept the contract no matter the terms because by filing for club-elected arbitration, they prevented other teams from signing Weber to an offer sheet this summer but also forfeited their rights to walk away from the arbiter's ruling.
Weber is expected to receive a significant raise from the $4.5 million he earned this past season. He is the first player this summer to have an arbitration hearing.
Weber is not eligible to be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2012-13 season, so a two-year award will take him to unrestricted free agency while a one-year award could put the team and its captain back in this same predicament next summer. The only difference next season is Weber could opt to take the club to arbitration, meaning Nashville would have walk-away rights.
The Predators and Weber wanted to avoid this process because arbitration hearings are notorious for being contentious as the two sides argue against one another for what they feel is the proper salary for the player before the independent arbiter ultimately awards the new contract.
Nevertheless, Weber has stated his desire to stay in Nashville for the long haul and, for obvious reasons, the Predators clearly do not want to let franchise defenseman out of their grasp.
Predators general manager David Poile has built his perennial playoff team by concentrating on defense first and he wants to keep the core foundation of goalie Pekka Rinne and defensemen Ryan Suter and Weber in Nashville for the better part of the decade.
Weber, arguably the best player in Predators' history, is the first of the trio to be up for a new contract.
Suter and Rinne are entering the final years on their current contracts and can be unrestricted free agents after the upcoming season.
The salary cap is not a concern for the Predators because, according to capgeek.com, they are currently No. 30 in the NHL in salary for the 2011-12 season at roughly $41.2 million. That actually puts Nashville $7.1 million below the salary-cap floor, but it's possible the cap hit on Weber's new contract eats up all or part of the difference regardless if it's for one year or multiple years.
There are currently seven defensemen on NHL rosters with contracts calling for an average annual value of $6.2 million or more. Weber's resume likely puts him in the contract category of Brian Campbell ($7.14 mil), Zdeno Chara ($6.9 mil), Jay Bouwmeester ($6.68 mil), Dan Boyle ($6.66 mil), Dion Phaneuf ($6.5 mil), Kimmo Timonen ($6.33 mil) and Nicklas Lidstrom ($6.2 mil).
Weber was a Norris Trophy finalist this past season with 16 goals and a career-best 32 assists while playing in all 82 games. In his first season as captain, the Predators beat Anaheim in six games to win their first playoff series in franchise history.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl