Sunday AJenda | Tough Love for the Preds; Tough Luck for the Other Guys (Part 1 of 2)

The Nashville Predators defied popular assumption as General Manager, David Poile (left) announced that his team would match the heavily front-loaded offer sheet to defenseman Shea Weber issued on July 19th by the Philadelphia Flyers and GM Paul Holmgren (right). (Photos: Mark Humphrey/AP [Poile]; [Holmgren])

What’s Love Got to Do With It?
As parents, we’re often faced with difficult decisions in handling the ‘life lessons’ of our children. Sometimes it’s necessary to force them to deal with the consequences of their actions, often resulting in considerable discomfort — for us as well as them. Sometimes we must place our children in uncomfortable circumstances; ones that they would not necessarily choose for themselves, yet we allow them to experience for their own good; forcing them to deal with the realities of the world around them and adapt to it; forcing them to grow.

In modern culture, we call it tough love.

A mother bird doesn’t push her babies out of the nest before she knows they’re ready to fly; neither does she do so with ill intent. She’s forcing them to grow.

It’s a theme that is played out in a myriad of situations in nature. It’s one of the many constants of life, without which survival of some species would certainly be hindered if not threatened altogether. However, the concept’s application  isn’t only limited to parents driving their young to grow and expand their horizons. Sometimes the roles can be reversed.

A year ago, the Nashville Predators were dealt a dose of tough love by their captain, Shea Weber.

There’s no doubt that Weber loved his team, but he also wanted them to win and he wanted to get paid. Accordingly, he placed Predators management on notice that its traditionally conservative culture had to change or else risk losing him to eventual free agency. The team listened. Although it was indeed tough, Weber’s unrelenting stance effectively changed the culture of the organization; they grew, and on August 2, 2011 Nashville signed Weber to the largest single-season arbitration awarded contract in NHL history.

However, it was only a one-year deal. Weber needed more proof of the Predators commitment, not just to him but to the entire team.

As the 2011-12 season began, ownership demonstrated that they had made the leap, opening the checkbook to sign impending unrestricted free agent, goaltender Pekka Rinne, to a long term extension. They attempted the same for Weber’s defensive partner, Ryan Suter, also an impending UFA.

Confidence brimmed. The team had another great season, shattering attendance records while corporate sponsorships increased, further providing the extra revenue necessary to secure their top players and add needed additional talent at the trade deadline. They even convinced their wayward prodigal forward, Alexander Radulov to return from the KHL for the playoff run, and hopefully, to mend fences with the NHL.

The front office didn’t hold back; they went for it. The Preds were built to win.

The team ended up equaling their playoff run of the previous season, however, this time defeating their division nemesis Detroit Red Wings in the first round, to the delirium of the fan base and respectful praise of the national hockey media.

Nevertheless, it was not to be the Preds’ year to advance beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They fell to the surprising Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Final in five games and in the wake of the inter-team scandal involving Radulov and fellow late-season addition, forward Andrei Kostitsyn.

Undoubtedly for the Preds, the 2011-12 season was a successful one by anyone’s standards, but because of the team they had and the money they spent to make it even better, that success fell well short of expectations.

When this summer rolled around, trepidation rolled in behind it. Suter stunned the front office, signing a huge UFA deal with the Minnesota Wild. Not quite as surprisingly, yet nearly as painful, the most enduringly popular Predator of all, forward Jordin Tootoo likewise took his game to Motown, signing a UFA deal with Nashville’s most-hated rivals.

Nevertheless, the collective punch in the gut of Tootoo’s defection on the first day of free agency, coupled with that of Suter’s three days later was nothing compared to the impact of what would follow and would leave Preds Nation gasping for breath for most of that long and torturous month of July.

Once again, Nashville was faced with the bittersweet circumstance of staring at #6 from across the negotiating table – now likely for the last time. With Weber acquiring this even stronger position from which to force his team to complete the transformation they began early last August, there was now even more at stake for the future of the franchise. Weber’s agents would either work out a deal that would see him finish his career in Nashville, or do so in another city.

Once again, the Captain’s camp would make things tough for the parent club. Weber signed a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers, forcing the Preds to match the offer or lose him forever. Yet in the end, the Preds did indeed step up, displaying a financial commitment that few believed they were capable of as an organization.

Once again, Weber had forced them to grow. However, the way it all went down gave anyone with a modicum of objectivity at least the thought that this fiasco-of-a-contract-negotiation was anything but a gesture of affectionate exhortation on the part of Weber’s agents, Titan Sports Management.

In the afterglow that was the press conference following the Predators’ offer sheet match, Weber made it clear that he was delighted with the realization that he would indeed be donning the gold and navy for the balance of his playing career. It is just as clear, however, that his handlers had a different color scheme in mind, and that under the cloak of ‘hockey business,’ they intentionally forced the Predators to accept a financial burden that was indeed ‘tough,’ but had absolutely nothing to do with ‘love.’

(No Longer) Waiting to Exhale
I think it’s safe to say that right now, a few days after the fact, pretty much everyone on the Predators side of things is thinking, thank GAWD it’s over!

The other shoe: never dropped. The Flyers’ offer sheet: matched. The Operation: Get Weber out of Nashville’ proponents: silenced (well…effectively, anyway).

The Captain is indeed back in the fold. And PredsNation is breathing once again.

However, in attempting to wrap my arms around all that we’ve learned from the week-long soul-suck that was the Weber offer sheet drama, there is a lingering down-side for me; one that I’d like to forget, but hope that I never do.

You know what they say… “fool me once…”

We might well think of it as a tough love gift to us as a fan base: driven-home reality that above all else, the NHL is a business, and sometimes business can be cruel.

Well, this one was a bit too cruel in my opinion.

And while I’m obviously relieved that Weber is still a Predator, in pondering the process of his contract negotiations these past two summers, I find that I’ve become quite a bit more cynical about the NHL, its fans, and particularly the media than I ever was before. No, this isn’t my first professional sports rodeo; I realize that ‘it’s a business’ means just that. However, I don’t believe a lot of people could have predicted the level of subterfuge that has come to light involving Weber’s contract extension circumstance, and that of Suter’s as well.

I’ll weigh in on Suter’s story at a later time, but I believe Weber’s to be the most compelling.

Over the past week and a half, many of the masks worn by those around the league who formerly feigned support for the Predators and their continuing battle for NHL legitimacy came flying off (pun partially intended), revealing the sneering, parochial ugliness that was hidden behind them all the time.

It’s been disappointing, to say the least.

Farewell, Webergate
Again, as is my tendency, I felt the need to wait until everything had blown over to truly assess the altered landscape. Fortunately for me, it all came into focus this past Wednesday afternoon with the aforementioned Predators’ post-offer sheet match conference call with the media. I finally saw what I need to in order to compose an informed opinion. Unfortunately, that opinion is a lot more cynical than I’d like it to be, but as Weber referred to his agents’ negotiating tactics throughout the now-concluded process, “it is what it is.”

So, with ample apologies to the memory of former President Gerald R. Ford, I offer this heavily altered adaptation of perhaps the most famous passage of his most famous speech, to paraphrase my feelings on the matter. I figured it far less offensive to bastardize a little American history than to really say what’s on my mind.

My fellow Nashvillians, our long national nightmare is over.

Our CBA works (but it could definitely use a few tweaks); our great NHL is a league of laws — not some freaking video game. Here the ice is level (meh…not really, but it’s getting there). But there is a higher power, by whatever name we honor it (but now, for the sake of argument, let’s just call it, ‘fairness’), that ordains not only righteousness, but righteous indignation; not only justice but, perhaps a bit of comeuppance as well.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Webergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of the Ryan Suter ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ debacle, let us restore the golden rule to our restricted free agent process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of jealousy and of hate.

Because, in the end, when the bullies kicked sand in our faces, we stood up and kicked the mother**kers back where it counts. And I think that’s fair, don’t you?

You’ll forgive me if the aroma of this story better favors scorched earth than sugar and spice, but I believe that Preds fans have good reason to be pissed – despite the fact that they have indeed retained their beloved Captain, and in so doing, have affirmatively flipped the bird to the hypocrites around the NHL who believed the lie that Weber just couldn’t wait to get out of Music City.

Weber’s series of comments on Wednesday was the proverbial drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid into the greasy sink of confusion and misinformation that obscured the reality of the Preds’ relationship with their most prized asset. Regarding the offer sheet process, the Predators, and previous statements to the media made by his agents, Weber clarified most of the perplexing contradictions that had incubated in the minds of Nashville fans over the excruciating five-day ordeal.

Now in hindsight, I’m ready to move on; however, I can’t deny what I’ve seen. I can’t un-ring the bell of disrespect the organization has no doubt absorbed, nor the lingering assumptions that still checker comment sections across the blogosphere, insisting that Weber will still attempt to effect a trade out of Nashville as soon as next summer. Throughout the process, I‘ve gained a little bit of knowledge, but I’ve lost a little bit of faith as well – in people; in fairness; in common sense.

Yep, the only good thing about this mess is that it’s over. But while closure is good, cloture is sometimes even better.

Next: Just Business?

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  1. Still More Tough Luck for the ‘Other’ Other Guys: The Fans | Predators AJenda | An NHL Blog by AJ in Nashville - August 13, 2012

    […] go. About a weeks ago that I offered my perspective on the Nashville Predators/Philadelphia Flyers/Shea Weber offer sheet fiasco (in somewhat nauseating […]

  2. The Preds Are Back To Work (And So Am I) | Predators AJenda | An NHL Blog by AJ in Nashville - January 22, 2013

    […] My struggles continued into June and burst into full bloom by July, coinciding with the Preds’ gut-wrenching personnel losses of fan-favorites, Jordin Tootoo and Ryan Suter to free agency, only to be ratcheted even higher by the protracted and painful saga that was the Shea Weber offer sheet match. […]

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