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

Contrary to the belief of many around the NHL (including his own agents) it would appear that Nashville Predators Captain Shea Weber (top-left) will celebrate with his Music City teammates for the balance of his playing career as Predators ownership stepped up to match the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet of the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP)


Just Business?
Amid all the confusion, frustration, and feelings of betrayal played out in the events of the Shea Weber/Philadelphia Flyers offer-sheet drama, there are two things I believe to be crystal clear, and actually have been for a long time.

  1. Weber believes that he deserves the most money he can possibly get.
  2. Weber’s agents, Titan Sports Management did NOT/do NOT want him to play the rest of his career in Nashville.

The above statements are fairly obvious. I can certainly understand and gladly accept #1. It’s #2 that I have a problem with, although I can understand it as well.

However, there’s one thing that’s still not clear to me. His pledge of allegiance to Music City notwithstanding, something else about Weber’s comments in Wednesday’s post-match presser don’t quite add up for me. When asked about his agents’ comments in the media, prior to Nashville’s matching of Philadelphia’s offer, sharply calling into question their client’s desire to spend the rest of his career in Nashville, the Captain seemed surprisingly nonchalant. He seemed to take no offense to Titan’s assertions, nor apologize for what could reasonably be considered irresponsible behavior on the part of his representatives.

I’m sorry folks, but I have to ask why.

In all of their statements on radio or to the press, there were no indications given by Weber’s agents last week that their client would be happy wearing anything other than the orange and black of the Flyers when all was said and done. Instead, “Shea ‘wants’ to play in Philadelphia,” was their constant refrain.

However, Weber’s answers to the media on Wednesday could not have inferred anything more to the contrary. He absolutely gushed about how excited he was that the Preds had stepped up, showing that they could “spend with the best teams.”  These certainly didn’t sound like the words of a player recently fitted with a ball-and-chain. If Weber really HAD set his hopes on becoming a Flyer, he could have danced around the happiness issue much as he did in the press conference last summer that followed the one-year, $7.5 million arbitration award he’d just been awarded. At the time, while coming across as happy, the Shea Weber of August 4, 2011 was far from the giddy guy whom the media encountered a little less than one year later.

Weber’s comments effectively repudiated EVERYTHING that Titan’s Jarrett Bousquet so dutifully trumpeted to hockey markets across North America last week. Along with Titan’s lead principle and Weber co-agent, Kevin Epp, they took to the airwaves in harmony, consistently echoing a doctrine that became quickly established and spread like wildfire throughout online, print, and broadcast media channels.

Mis(informa)sion Accomplished (But Just Temporarily)
The following is my paraphrased interpretation of the Titan’s Philadelphia stump speech. It likely contains a bit more snark than it should, but in no way does that alter its intended message (…well, the parenthetical statements aren’t quite what you’d call ‘empirical,’ but they’re kinda fun and they make a lotta sense too):

There’s been a change of philosophy in Nashville. When they lost Suter they might just as well have announced: “HEY! We couldn’t afford the guy; how could we? We don’t have the resources even though we claim to! Besides, he knew we weren’t committed to winning, anyway, but now I guess our little secret’s out. Therefore, we are officially retreating into rebuild mode now; sorry if we got our fans’ hopes up, but it’s way past midnight and we really have to get back to being who we are, okay? Buh-bye.”

 Obviously, Shea wants none of that.

So now that the Flyers’ GM, Paul Holmgren has thrown this unsolicited, 14-year, $110 million offer sheet at our feet, we’ve decided that Philadelphia is a better fit for Shea than Nashville. Obviously the Flyers are more serious about winning the Stanley Cup than the Preds, and having Shea would put them over the top (which would mean LOTS more promotion money for us! YAAAAAAY!).

So we signed the offer sheet instead of waiting until Shea became a UFA after next season, because we KNOW Nashville won’t be able to hack all that front-loaded cash. We DEFINITELY think Shea would prefer to play in Philly because they have such a great team and he’d be guaranteed to win (and WE’D be guaranteed to earn a boatload more money promoting him in their huge media market! YAAAAAAY!) .

Oh, and yeah, we realize that Nashville COULD decide to match…but we REALLY hope that they don’t.

Okay, okay I apologize for letting my snark flag fly a little there, but you get the picture. Other than future promotional revenue, there was absolutely no reason for Weber’s agents to promote the Flyers as they did if there was even a hint of chance that the Preds would match. Shea’s happiness would have been a non-issue. Do I believe he would have enjoyed playing in Philly? Of course! No one doubts the quality of that organization nor of the hockey market in the City of Brotherly Love.

But instead of giving Nashville its due respect, particularly in view of their client’s own true feelings, Bousquet and Epp systematically downplayed Nashville as a favorable destination for Weber, both in terms of the city’s hockey viability as well as the team’s financial commitment to field top players and keep them there. In the process they reinforced most of the ridiculous hockey prejudices that are obviously still in place throughout the media and the NHL; false assumptions that most fans assumed had long since been rendered irrelevant.

If you were paying attention, you noticed that nowhere in Titan’s pitch did you find anything resembling the phrase, Shea told us he’d prefer to play in Philly” or Weber said that he wants out of Nashville” – or even, Weber said he believes that the Preds now need to rebuild.” Instead it was all, “we decided” and “Shea wants”; it was never “Shea has said.” That’s not something that got lost in the translation of my paraphrase, folks. They never said it – not once.

And how could they? Unless they actually wanted to graduate from mere agents of misinformation to bald-faced liars?

For Weber’s part, it would appear that the Captain wanted no part in stirring up the waters any further. Referring to his agents’ misleading comments on Wednesday Weber waxed diplomatic. “That was just the business side. I was never a part of any of that, he responded. I didn’t make any statements publicly. I love the city of Nashville, I love the fans; I love my teammates.”

Yep, that sounds like one real unhappy camper, doesn’t it?

But of course, since nobody knew that at the time, the media went nuts, reporting Bousquet’s wishful half-truths as if they were from the lips of Shea himself. No one outside of Nashville that I heard or read ever raised the question of whether these were actually Weber’s words or merely those of his agents.

Whatever their reasons, the tactic is now obvious. One would think that in attempting to steer this deal in the direction of Philly, an important element in accomplishing that would be to manufacture enmity between the player and his old team.

The obvious focus of Titan’s media misinfo was to send a message to the Predators’ brass by way of innuendo, suggesting that they probably shouldn’t bother matching this offer sheet, lest they bring back a PO’d captain only to find out later that the ‘C’ on his sweater now stood for ‘cancer’ instead.

It’s the type of thing we see so often nowadays, it’s sometimes hard to catch. This proffering of innuendo is a potent tactic in politics as a means of manipulating public opinion and in this case was largely successful, by virtue of the reaction I saw in the national and local media; even amongst the Predators fan base weighing in on Twitter and Facebook. With their misinformation media tour, Titan was able to adequately poison the well without needing to resort to the kind of full-on treachery that could truly come back to them in the butt later on down the road. If it worked, they’d almost be guaranteed to make more money. If not, well, at least they gave it the ol’ college try.

HATE It For Ya, Fellas…
However, in the end, although successfully coloring the truth just enough that most everyone bought into their less-than-subliminal message, the Preds apparently were wearing earplugs.

Thankfully, Preds GM, David Poile is no fool. This wasn’t his first go ‘round dealing with Titan in particular, nor the general ‘agent-speak’ of a representative whose agenda differed from that of the organization.

You can be sure that if I could pick out the subtleties in Bousquet’s attempted snow job that Poile did as well.

And that, I believe, is why the Predators matched when so many believed that they wouldn’t.

It would have done Nashville no good at all to retain a disgruntled Shea Weber. They HAD to know that Titan’s assertions were a ploy. Due to the rules of negotiation, getting Weber on the horn to ask him directly was not an option that Nashville possessed; however, what Poile could do was read between the lines and follow his gut, based on history shared with an honorable young man whom he knew loved the city and the team that drafted and developed him.

Despite the overriding sentiment of the numerous tweets and sound bites generated via the online and broadcast media, Bousquet’s message fell on deaf ears in the only market that mattered: Nashville Tennessee. Their attempt to steer public opinion against Weber here, may have been mildly successful; however, their hopes of stifling ownership’s desire to bring him back had failed.

Hate it for ya, fellas, but this time the good guys won. And after all,

It’s Just Business…Or Is It?
The smoke has now cleared, but this is a chapter in Preds history that some will have a tough time sweeping under the rug — and I’m one of them. Nonetheless, not all Nashville adversaries in this story qualify for the same level of hell that I might assign some to, were it my prerogative to do so.

To Paul Holmgren and the Flyers, I harbor no ill-will. Homer was just doing his job. No one could blame him for that. I’ve always considered the Flyers one of my favorite Eastern Conference clubs; besides, this was Terry Crisp’s team, and you’ve gotta love ‘em for that.

Likewise, I still love and respect current Flyers/former Predators, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, and will always wish them well, both for the obvious place of honor they hold in Nashville’s hockey history, but also in the honest efforts they continue to make each and every season to bring the Stanley Cup back to one of America’s greatest cities, Philadelphia.

However, the guys that I am less willing to let off the hook are Weber’s BC homeboys at Titan Sports Management.

I can forgive Weber for cutting them some slack in light of the abject duplicity that is ‘the business of hockey,’ but I just have to scratch my head at what he thought doing so would accomplish.

The good news is, it really doesn’t matter anymore. Save for the still-existing possibility that Poile will grant a no-trade/no-movement clause which both Weber and his agents have publicly mentioned they’d like to have, the Preds’ front office will never again be required to deal with Epp, Bousquet, & Co. with regard to the Captain.

Nevertheless, with all the publicity generated by the offer sheet fiasco, it’s more than likely that the agency’s phone will now be ringing off the hook as a result of the king’s ransom they successfully secured for their number one client. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see more future Preds being represented by them. We most likely have not received our last whiff of Messrs. Bousquet, Epp & Co.

Poile is no doubt anticipating this. So, instead of the back of his hand, later on Wednesday afternoon, he publicly offered an olive branch statement, commending Titan’s effort in a radio interview with Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Prime Time Sports:

“There’s hockey and then there’s the business side of hockey. And I think Shea and his representatives have done a fabulous job to get him to this point. He got a $110-million, 14-year contract, all front-loaded. They did a fabulous job.”

Poile is right. We may not appreciate the way they did it, but no one can deny that Titan was effective in getting the most for their client. And while we can feel good about Shea finally getting his due, we can feel even better about what his agents were unable to accomplish: their attempt to goad the Preds into not matching the offer sheet, and thus allowing Weber to go to Philadelphia.

Indeed, Titan effectively, but-far-from-subtly used the existing CBA to their advantage in securing Weber’s landmark deal. It’ll be interesting to see how easy it will be for them repeat that feat after the next CBA is ratified – hopefully in early September (…but I’m not holding my breath on that, and neither should you).

Yep, in the end it was just business, and in business, as in sports, there are winners and there are losers.

Shea Weber, the Nashville Predators, and their fans have won.

Titan Sports Management and the Philadelphia Flyers have lost.

Tough love for the Preds; tough luck for the other guys.

 

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finis

3 Responses to “Sunday AJenda | Tough Love for the Preds; Tough Luck for the Other Guys (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. @stackiii July 29, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    The agents’ comments really rubbed me the wrong way, and I wondered, too, if Weber had any obligation to disavow them with more vehemence than he did. In fact, I postulated on Facebook, “Shea Weber should fire his agents. Discuss.” That was partly to generate discussion on the issue, and partly to express my frustration.

    But then I thought about it from the agents’ points of view. They have a contractual obligation to their players to score the largest contracts possible, and they also have some self-interest in that, as beneficiaries of the take. Clearly Philly could pony up the kitty (to mix animal metaphors) to sign Shea long-term, so it’s not like that would have been a bad move for either Shea or the agents. And if Nashville matched, they’d be in an equally good situation.

    So why run their mouths on radio?

    As a communications guy, I should have seen this coming a mile away. Shea’s agents have to know how much he loves Nashville, how much he enjoys playing with relative anonymity in the community. They have to know he’s a captain, a future Hall of Famer, a franchise player around which Poile can — and has begun to — build a Cup contender. All of that being said, looking at this retrospectively, the agents ingeniously used the media to exert pressure on the Preds to match, because that’s where they knew Shea wanted to be.

    Is it dirty? Sure. Did it play with people’s emotions? Absolutely. Is that what agents are paid to do? You bet. My frustration doesn’t stem from the individuals themselves, or from what they said. It stems from having such an enormous emotional investment in the outcome that I failed to see the mechanics of a well-executed campaign to sign Shea long-term in Nashville — something they clearly wanted all along, as they had worked together with Poile on a $104 million offer, and then after Suter left, Poile thought he might need to trade for help up front.

    That may be too charitable a view of the situation, and I’m willing to concede that.

    • AJ in Nashville July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am #

      Oh, no, George; that’s a brilliant comment, and an angle I hadn’t considered. But still, from an integrity factor it stinks, and as I mentioned, from a RE-poison-the-well-against-Nashville standpoint, it absolutely blows. maybe that’s why they did it and maybe not. Personally I don’t believe Shea cares, because it’s my opinion that he’s done much more for them than even the deal they managed to wrangle up could ever do for Weber.

      And I just discovered something last night that has up to now gone unnoticed or at least unmentioned in light of all this that makes them look even less honorable. I’ll post that tomorrow or Tuesday — I gotta ton of yard work I have to finish this afternoon that I put off to write this story. ;)

      Thanks for the great comment.

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