This is what have might have been for the Flyers.
For the first time since the Nashville Predators foiled Paul Holmgren’s best laid plans, not to mention all but bankrupt their franchise, and chose to match Philadelphia’s outrageous (at least for hockey) 14-year, $110 million offer, Shea Weber comes to town tonight.
Considered by most to be among the premier defensemen in the game, the 28-year-old Weber is noted for a blistering shot from the point and exceptional puck handling ability. That’s why Ed Snider & Co. were willing to virtually break the bank when he went on the market as a restricted free agent following the 2012 season.
The key word there is “restricted,’’ meaning his team had the right to match the deal, which wasn’t the case with former Pred defenseman Ryan Suter, whom the Flyers had previously pursued in vain. While Suter was free to sign anywhere, choosing the Minnesota Wild where he was joined by Zach Parise, Weber was at the mercy of his own team.
Ultimately they decided, whatever the cost, they couldn’t afford to let Weber go, even though it would’ve brought them up to four first-round picks under the NHL’s old compensation program. Ironically, under the terms of the new CBA, such deals will never happen again since there’s a seven-year limit on free agent contracts.
The Flyers tried to downplay losing out on a three-time all-star who would’ve softened the blow of Chris Pronger’s career-ending injury,even though he’s technically still not retired. But coming up empty on all their moves left Holmgren scrambling to fill out his roster, especially after free agent defenseman Matt Carle left for Tampa Bay.
“In tendering an offer sheet to Shea Weber, we were trying to add a top defenseman entering the prime of his career,” Holmgren said at the time. “With Nashville matching our offer, we wish Shea and the Predators all the best.’’
It hasn’t quite worked out that way for the Preds, who were coming off a 104-point season and generating plenty of interest in Music City. Nashville failed to make the playoffs during the lockout shortened season, going an NHL third worst 16-23-9. They’re currently 20-21-7, 11th in the West, eight points out of a playoff spot and winless in their last five road games.
Don’t blame the 6-4, 232 lb. Weber, though, who has 11 goals and 19 assists in 45 games this season—but missed the Flyers’ November 30 3-2 shootout win in Nashville due to an eye injury resulting from taking a puck to the face. More telling has been the absence of goalie Pekka Rinne, who’s been out since late October due to a bacterial infection in his hip.
That’s forced coach Barry Trotz, who’s been there since the franchise’s inception in 1997– tops in seniority among his NHL brethren—to scramble. It also led to Wednesday’s deal with Edmonton for goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose playing time diminished once Ilya Bryzgalov arrived.
Drafting defenseman Seth Jones, the No. 4 pick and son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, gives the Predators something to build with. But this is still a team that relies on Weber—along with forwards David Legwand, Craig Smith and Carrie Underwood’s husband, Mike Fisher—to lead the attack.
“They have a good power play, especially with him,’’ said Craig Berube, whose club snapped a two-game losing streak in Buffalo Tuesday, 4-3, with three goals in the last 6:32. “It’s going to be a tough challenge.But the best way to defend a power play is to stay out of the box.’’
Otherwise, Shea Weber, the man who had dreams of becoming a Flyer until the Predators crushed them, figures to make them pay.
And give Flyers fans, still pained it didn’t work out, a taste of what might’ve been.