The Flyers may be well on their way to landing their biggest prize since Eric Lindros arrived in Philadelphia via trade in 1992.
As first announced by TSN's Darren Dreger, the Flyers have signed Nashville star defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet. According to Rogers Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, the deal is worth $110 million over 14 years.
That deal, in pure dollar figure, would be the second-richest in the NHL's history – exceeding Sidney Crosby's recent $104 million extension from earlier this summer and traling only Alex Ovechkin's $124 mammoth contract.
Messages left for Flyers executives, well past the midnight hour on Thursday, were not returned to the Daily News. On Thursday morning, the Flyers confirmed that they have signed Weber to an offer sheet but would "have no further comment at this time."
Nashville has 7 calendar days – until 11:59 pm on Wednesday, July 25 – to match the deal for the market's marquee restricted free agent.
If the Predators do not decide to match, or do not acknowledge the offer sheet within the 7 day window, Weber would be a Flyer. The Flyers would then likely owe 4 first round draft picks in consecutive years to Nashville, depending on his actual total dollar figure. If the Predators do decide to match Weber's offer from the Flyers, they would be locked in at the exact same term and dollar amount, with the inability to trade him for an entire calendar year.
According to Kypreos, the Flyers have structured the deal in a way that it may be impossible for Nashville to match. The breakdown would be as follows:
2012-13 (age 27): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2013-14 (28): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2014-15 (29): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2015-16 (30): $1 million salary + $13 million signing bonus (league maximum $14M)
2016-17 (31): $4 million salary + $8 million signing bonus (total $12 million)
2017-18 (32): $4 million salary + $8 million signing bonus (total $12 million)
2018-19 (33): $6 million salary
2019-20 (34): $6 million salary
2020-21 (35): $6 million salary
2021-22 (36): $6 million salary
2022-23 (37): $3 million salary
2023-24 (38): $1 million salary
2024-25 (39): $1 million salary
2025-26 (40): $1 million salary
TOTAL: $110 million
Since signing bonuses are usually paid out in a lump sum on July 1 before the season of play, the would mean the Predators would be required to pay Weber $27 million in the next 347 days just to match. To put that in perspective, 16.5 percent of Nashville's entire franchise net worth ($163M as valuated by Forbes Magazine in 2011) would be paid out in less than a calendar year by the small-market team.
For the Flyers, if Weber's offer is matched by Nashville, they will not be penalized in any way.
A source told the Daily News that Weber spent time in Philadelphia last week meeting with the Flyers' brass, though that also has not been confirmed by the team. This would not be tampering, since Weber was not under contract with any team.
Weber, 26, would be signed until he is 40 years old. At exactly $110 million, his salary cap hit would be $7.8 million per year, just slightly more than his $7.5 million hit from last season in Nashville and the hit teammate Ryan Suter signed with in Minnesota on July 4.
(As a note: the cap hit is figured by dividing total dollars spent by term, regardless if it is salary or signing bonus)
For the Flyers, the move makes a lot of sense.
Weber is a two-time NHL first team All-Star. He has been a multiple time Norris Trophy finalist for the league's best defenseman. He is a demanding, durable, physical presence who has also contributed more than 43 points from the blue line in each of the last 4 seasons.
Weber is perhaps a better addition on the Flyers' blue line than even a Chris Pronger in his prime. Coincidentally, the move would also likely spell out the formal end to Pronger's playing days, since the Flyers would no longer be able to afford his cap hit, should he even decide to skate again.
Plus, Weber would solidify the Flyers' defense corps for years to come. Weber, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Luke Schenn, Nick Grossmann and Bruno Gervais would all be under contract for at least the next two seasons.
Currently, the Flyers have approximately $12.7 million in cap space available for next season, not including Pronger's $4.91 million which can be moved to the long-term injury list. That number is based on the temporary cap ceiling of $70.2 million, which could indeed fall based on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current deal expires on Sept. 15, and with a lockout now looming, the NHL's first proposal at the negotiating table included a cap drop to $64 million for next season. Any of those numbers could limit the Flyers to re-signing restricted free agent Jake Voracek, who is due for a decent raise.
Then again, it could also mean that the Flyers would need to stash a larger contract in AHL Adirondack to remain cap compliant, something they have not been afraid to do in the past. Any one of those outcomes is a happy biproduct to landing Weber.
The Flyers are no stranger to offer sheets for restricted free agents. Only a handful have been offered in league history, but the Flyers signed Chris Gratton from Tampa Bay to one in 1997. The Flyers, also under Bob Clarke, signed Vancouver's Ryan Kesler to one, though the Canucks chose to match that off-the-wall, one-year, $1.9 million deal. The Flyers flirted with an offer sheet for Lightning star Steven Stamkos last summer before ultimately deciding against it.
The last free agent to sign an offer sheet in the NHL was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. He signed a 4-year, $14 million offer from San Jose on July 9, 2010, but the Blackhawks chose to match the deal just 3 days later.
For Weber, the timing of the signing is interesting. While he may be subject to a significant, double-digit salary rollback under the next Collective Bargaining Agreement – whenever that is hashed out and completed – he may have also been subject to a term limit of just 5 years in his next contract next summer. That would severely limit the total number of dollars heading to his bank account.
The signing bonuses are guaranteed, whether there is locked out a season or not. It is CBA-proof, so to speak.
According to Dreger, the Flyers made multiple attempts to try and pry Weber's rights from Nashville prior to signing him to that mega offer sheet. Apparently, they grew tired of the repeated rebuffs from Nashville general manager David Poile.
Dreger also reported that the Rangers, Red Wings and Sharks were also interested in signing Weber to an offer sheet.
Poile, the son of the Flyers' first general manager in Bud Poile, has reiterated over and over again this summer that he would match any offer sheet brought down the pike on Weber.
Losing Weber, for Poile, would decimate his franchise. They already lost his partner, Suter, to a 13-year, $98 million deal to Minnesota. Goaltender Pekka Rinne, Suter and Weber were considered to be franchise cornerstones – and now two of them may be gone in a matter of weeks.
Then again, Poile is on the record as saying that letting defenseman Scott Stevens go to St. Louis via an offer sheet in 1990 when he was the GM of the Washington Capitals was the biggest mistake of his career. That time, Poile's hands were tied by owner Abe Pollin, who did not want to match the terms of St. Louis' offer, which would make Stevens the highest-paid defenseman in the league over names like Ray Bourque and Chris Chelios.
Depending on Poile's message from Predators ownership, he may not have much of a choice this time around, either. A lot of it may have to do with the up-front money being offered, whether Nashville is even liquid enough to match such a deal with their pinched books. There is some thought that the Predators have prepared themselves for this eventuality by having quite a few players on other previous, front-loaded deals to be able to focus themselves on re-signing Weber and/or Suter.
Plus, is Nashville really interested in bringing back a player like Weber, who has apparently pursued skating elsewhere? For Weber, Suter's well-orchestrated departure to Minnesota may have been a sign that Nashville is not a viable Stanley Cup contender. Suter reportedly receives $25 million over the next calendar year in up-front money.
Keep in mind, too, that Poile and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren have worked out a bevy of trades in the past, ranging from Peter Forsberg to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.
Interestingly, both Hartnell and Weber represented the NHLPA at the CBA negotiations in New York on Wednesday. The two were teammates in Nashville for parts of two seasons ... and now may be teammates again?
It's fair to say that this next week will define the entire Nashville franchise. And, in many ways, the Flyers' Stanley Cup dreams. With Weber, the Flyers will become an instant and credible contender.
This story will be updated throughout the day.