Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Offer Sheet, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Shea Weber (Contract) Bomb

If David Poile looks like this after losing Ryan Suter, imagine what happens if he loses Shea Weber. Full fledged zombie Poile.
Photo credit The Tennessean

This was supposed to be the biggest offseason in a decade. The Red Wings added three future Hall of Famers to their roster the last time they were in a period of transition that even remotely resembles this one. What have they done so far this summer? Added a solid backup goalie, an agitator with little offensive upside, a flashy but unproven European star, and a player who was not resigned by Detroit the last time he reached free agency. Not exactly the blockbuster summer everyone was hoping for.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, and if ever there was a drastic time this is it. Chris from Nightmare on Helm Street wrote an interesting article about signing Shea Weber to an offer sheet. I like his idea of throwing out an offer that David Poile can't match, but what will that take? Is there a way we can precisely pinpoint a number that Poile can't match, thereby pushing him over the brink of insanity that he's already teetering on?

The most difficult part of signing Weber to an offer sheet is Nashville's available cap space. They have about $30 million left to spend, which is essentially a blank check. Some of that $30 million will disappear soon, as Poile doesn't have a full roster at this time. Let's take a look.

I then tried to predict moves Nashville will make and see how much cap space was left. Winger Sergei Kostitsyn filed for salary arbitration, and they'll likely re-sign him at a higher salary than the $2.5 million he made last season. I gave him a modest raise since his production did slip, so let's assume he earns $3.00 million next season. There's a big need for help on defense, so I extended qualifying offers to Jonathon Blum and Teemu Laakso. Colin Wilson is one of the Predators' more promising young players, so let's say they sign him to a deal with a cap hit of $1.825 million, similar but slightly above his current $1.725 million hit. This still leaves Nashville with only two left wingers, and six centers. I'll be nice to them and say that they don't have to sign two left wings, but instead convert a center. This means they still have to acquire a left wing, and I'll assume they do this via free agency. They could use a veteran leader with some scoring punch, so let's say they sign Andrew Brunette to a one year, $2.2 million deal. After all this, they've still got $21.633 million in cap space.

With that much cap space, we have to be realistic. There's a very, very good chance that Nashville matches any offer another team puts on the table that's short of a one year, $22 million deal. This is their franchise player and captain, and the organization is feeling even more pressure to keep him after the departure of Ryan Suter.

Regardless, Detroit can still put Nashville in a tremendously uncomfortable position. As far as the contract offer itself, I think Detroit can afford to put a $12.2 million deal on the table. To calculate this number, I first assumed the Wings resign Justin Abdelkader for $1.3 million per season, and Kyle Quincey for $3.78 million per. I took the Quincey figure from the contest running over on The Production Line, and the Abdelkader salary is one that I've heard he's looking for. This means that Detroit ends up with $100k if Weber doesn't get matched, and also puts them one player over the maximum.

The roster is overloaded with forwards, and someone will either have to be sent to Grand Rapids or traded to bring the roster down to the maximum of 23. Trading a forward for draft picks would help, because if Weber signs with Detroit and isn't matched the Wings will lose four first round draft picks. The likely candidate to take his turn apprenticing in Grand Rapids is Damien Brunner, despite being billed as a top six forward by Mike Babcock. He's one of the two forwards with two way contracts, and is unproven in the NHL. 

So if Nashville has a blank check, why even try?

The facts don't exactly pain a rosy picture from the Wings' perspective. Only one player has ever signed an offer sheet and not been matched by his current club post-lockout, but Detroit has absolutely nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. The Wings wanted to add a top six forward and a first pair defenseman in the offseason. There aren't any top flight defensemen left on the open market, and perhaps only Keith Yandle available on the trade market.. Forwards are more available, and Detroit's forward crop is a lot stronger than their blue liners as the roster stands now. If you prioritize needs, an elite defenseman is far and away the Wings' greatest void.

Enter Weber. A Norris trophy nominee the past two seasons, he's a true top pair guy who plays a great offensive and defensive game. Nicklas Lidstrom is absolutely irreplaceable, but I think Weber is a step closer to filling those skates than even Ryan Suter would have been. 

For once, Detroit has leverage. They had none with Suter and Zach Parise, instead having to wait and hope against hope that one of them would chose Detroit as the issuer of their paychecks for the next decade plus. The Wings now have an opportunity to be the aggressor and show that they are in no way rebuilding, but instead are looking to reload and make another run for the Cup.

So, let's say the Wings give Weber an offer sheet. What's next?

What's the worst that could happen? They put a huge offer on the table and Weber turns it down. At the very least he knows that Detroit sees him as a part of their future plans, and should he make it to free agency in 2013 he knows we'll be right there waiting to hand him a long term deal. If Nashville matches, it guarantees he becomes a free agent in 2013 and the same scenario is in play; Mr. Weber, here's the vault. Help yourself.

Let's say Weber signs the offer sheet, and Nashville doesn't match. After all, they've got to lock up Patric Hornqvist to a long term deal in the next year, as he's one of the few scorers they have. Beyond Hornqvist, take a look at this. It speaks for itself.

That's a lot of free agents. Best case scenario? Weber signs, and Poile can't or won't match. Detroit gets one year to enjoy the services of a top five blue liner, and also gets a year to impress him and hopefully sign him for the long haul.

Ken Holland is obviously smarter than you, ya blogger. There's gotta be a catch.

There's one caveat to the Weber contract. We can't continue to pay him $12.2 million over a multi-year deal. Sure, there's money to throw out this offseason, but who knows what the next CBA will bring. Weber's signing would have to (or at least should) come with a gentlemen's agreement that, should Weber become a Red Wing, he'd have to take less to stay here after 2012-13. Not the whole "we're the Wings so everyone should want to play for us because mystique original six Gordie Stevie blah" discount, but down to fair market value. I wouldn't have a problem making Weber the highest paid defenseman in the league, so perhaps we could mention that a new contract would have an annual cap hit of about $8 million.

Pssh, this isn't Detroit's kind of move. They preach patience, there's no way they do this.

It's true, as an organization patience has been a virtue for a long time. I have no problem with that, as I appreciate patience and think that panic button moves can get you in over your head quicker than you could every imagine. There comes a time, however, where patience has run it's course. Detroit has been extolling the virtues of waiting for over a year now, and in that time little has been done to make the team better. It's time to use some of the cap space that has been saved up on a player worth the inflated salary handed out to free agents this offseason.

Why is now the right time?

Weber's stunned, Poile's stunned, most of Nashville is probably stunned. Now's the time to make a bold move. Something needs to be done to quell the nerves of a fanbase that has seen the last links to the glory of the late nineties and two thousands walk away slowly put surely over the past few seasons.

If you're wondering why the face of Nashville hockey would contemplate signing with their biggest rival, take a look at this post from Puck Daddy. It nicely summarizes some of the reasons he may look elsewhere. Nashville isn't exactly getting a ringing endorsement from his agents, that's for sure

About that other forward....

If you think that the Wings shouldn't pursue Weber but should instead sign Shane Doan or Alex Semin and look for another defenseman elsewhere, I understand your stance. However, I ask you this; would you rather see Shane Doan in a Wings jersey for a couple of seasons, or one of the top five defensemen in the league patrolling the blue line for one year, with a possibility of keeping that player in Detroit for years to come. I've always been a defense-first guy, so I'm putting my money on the latter. Now all we can do is sit back and see whether the Wings' front office feels the same.

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