Cash before delivery.
It’s a growing trend in the NHL these days, one some regard as a dangerous method of paying players.
The notion of handing out contracts to young players based on what you anticipate they’ll produce down the road isn’t without some peril, but it’s vastly superior to overcompensating players for something they haven’t got and will never acquire.
Nashville GM David Poile, who does his job about as well as anyone out there, locked up the Preds’ pet rock, Shea Weber, for $4.5 million a season last summer when Weber’s entry-level deal expired. Most importantly, he signed him to the three-year pact one week before the NHL free agency period kicked off, eliminating the chance of some team putting a lucrative offer sheet in front of Weber that would have placed the Preds in a compromising position.
And by getting Weber to commit early, Poile also avoided the dangerous Ron Hainsey precedent.
Hainsey, you’ll recall, hopped aboard the Atlanta Thrashers gravy train to the tune of $4.5 million for five years. That’s the same average salary Weber draws, but with two more years tacked onto the deal.
Hainsey, to his credit, is off to a hot start. But the 27-year-old scored eight goals last year and nine the season prior. Weber had six in 54 games last year and 17 in his first full NHL campaign during 2006-07. The 23-year-old already has three goals and seven points through six games this year, while posting a plus-4 mark.
And Weber doesn’t even log the most ice time among Nashville blueliners; he’s second behind lung capacity leader Ryan Suter.
He’s the other young defender Poile has in the fold for the very reasonable (relative terms here people) average price of $3.5 million per season. While Suter’s done less to merit his money than Weber over three seasons, he too is still only 23. His four points through six games – not to mention his ice time and the fact he’s plus-3 – indicate he’s coming around.
Suter also signed his new four-year deal before becoming a restricted free agent. After July 1, the Toronto Maple Leafs gave Jeff Finger the same term and money Suter got and the Columbus Blue Jackets committed more money to Mike Commodore ($3.75 million per season) over a five-year period.
Neither of those deals came into play when Poile was negotiating with Suter because, as with Weber, he didn’t wait around and let the market play him. His prudence has paid off, big time.
Weber could very well win the Norris Trophy during a period of time when he makes the same money as Hainsey. Suter is certain to bring much more to the table than Finger and Commodore.
So the next time you hear talk of money trouble in Nashville, know it certainly doesn’t apply to the GM who’s squeezing every last drop out of every single dollar he has.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blognormally appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every Wednesday.
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