By Allan Muir
July 24, 2012

Right from the onset, the Nashville Predators made it clear that they'd match any contract offer made to their restricted free agent captain Shea Weber.

So could anyone really be surprised when they did just that Tuesday afternoon?

Well, outside of Weber and the Philadelphia Flyers, that is.

The offer sheet, all 14 years and $110 million dollars of it, front-loaded to the tune of $26 million for 2012-13, was built to take advantage of Nashville's small-market bank account. It was cruel, calculating and well within the rules of engagement.

More than a few hockey people thought that the bully tactics of Flyers GM Paul Holmgren would land one of the game's truly elite defenders for Philly.

But in the end it failed, as these bids usually do, because what choice did the Preds have? With free agent rear guard Ryan Suter already lost earlier this month to the Minnesota Wild, the franchise was at the crossroads of credibility and irrelevance.

In a statement released by the team, the decision came down to three key questions:

Was Shea Weber the individual that this franchise wanted to lead our team, a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup every year, for the next 14 years?

Would matching the offer sheet be in the best long-term interest of the team and organization?

Would a decision not to match the offer sheet send a negative message to current Predators players and other NHL organizations, a message that the Predators would only go so far to protect its best players and be pushed around by teams with "deep pockets?"

The answer to each of the above questions is clearly yes.

Of course it was. But what they forgot to mention in the release was the thank-you card that Nashville GM David Poile was sending to Holmgren. The Flyers actually did the Preds a favor. After all, if Weber doesn't sign this deal obligating him either to Philadelphia or Nashville, it's clear now he was leaving as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Now comes the mending of the fences in Nashville. And this will take some effort from both sides.

Weber obviously had his reasons for signing the offer sheet. Maybe he wanted to cash in to a degree that he wasn't sure would be available to him as a UFA under the new CBA next summer. Maybe he didn't believe in the team's future after watching Suter walk away. Maybe he wanted to swim in a bigger pond.

Maybe he was tired of Nashville.

Whatever the case, he has some making up to do. Not to the guys in the room. They'll understand. If any one of them had been offered that kind of retirement fund, they would have taken it in a minute. But Weber will have to go hat in hand to the fans that he was so eager to desert. It's one thing for a star to take the money and run. But a captain? The fans have every right to see this as a betrayal. It's going to take some finesse to get past it.

The Preds need to do their own part to rebuild the bridges ... and it's going to start with the contract, which isn't yet finalized. In matching the offer sheet, the team now has an agreement with Weber on salary, term, bonuses and payment dates.

Beyond that, there's still room for some negotiation. And it's expected that Weber's people will ask that some kind of no-trade clause be added to the deal.

Poile's reaction to that request should be a peal of maniacal laughter right before he gives Weber's agent a good, old-fashioned bum's rush out of his office.

But the Preds and their long-term stability are better served by playing nice. Maybe they decide to choke down the bile and give it to him.

A little effort from both sides would go a long way right about now.

And the Flyers? A disappointing day, no doubt. But their fans might want to stop congratulating Holmgren for swinging for the fences and instead ask why he stopped running at second base. If he was truly serious about filling that Chris Pronger-sized hole on his blue line, he should have placed a call to Poile right after signing the sheet and covered his bets. He had to know that four first rounders -- all likely to fall in the bottom third of the deck -- would do nothing to help Poile save face for letting Weber walk.

No, if Holmgren wanted to seal the deal, he should have made a deal. Take the CBA-mandated first rounders back and craft a trade offer from a position of strength. A package that included a couple of young forwards like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, plus a couple of sweeteners wouldn't have hurt their enviable depth up front and just might have convinced the Preds to pass on matching the offer.

Instead, he gambled that Nashville couldn't foot that bill. But he should have known better ... because he knows he would have matched if he'd been in Poile's shoes.

So now he watches as the Rangers add Rick Nash and the Penguins make serious chemistry adjustments and he's left to tell the faithful that he gave it his best shot.

But he didn't. Not really.

What next? Well, P.K. Subban or John Carlson shouldn't expect a call any time soon. Both are solid young players, but neither fits Philly's specific need, nor would they be worthy of the sort of offer that their current teams wouldn't match.

There's always the trade route. The Coyotes are willing to part with Keith Yandle and Winnipeg's Zach Bogosian might be available, but both are one half of the whole, and if Holmgren wasn't willing to move another young forward for Weber, it's hard to imagine him sending one packing now.

Or maybe Holmgren simply waits until next year. There's no way of knowing how the new CBA will play out, or if there will be any changes made that impact young players entering restricted free agency, but someone like Alex Pietrangelo, Oliver-Ekman Larsson or Ryan McDonagh might be worth a bid.

Of course, that assumes their current teams won't have them locked up by July 1.

And after this messy affair, what do you suppose those odds are?

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