Doughty, Kings Watch as Weber Arbitration Award Likely to Set Precedent

By David Strehle
NHL H
ot Stove Creative Editor

As each of the 24 scheduled NHL salary arbitration hearings slowly fell off the docket with settlements prior to any gruelling proceedings, one big date loomed large in how another star’s contract negoatiations will likely play out.

That day was today, August 2nd.

Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua

The Nashville Predators and restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber – along with his agent from Titan Sports Management, Inc., Jarrett Bousquet - somehow could not reach an agreement, and instead ended up going through the process of a hearing this morning in Toronto.

There is no doubt that it would have been in the Preds’ best interest to have settled this matter prior to the hearing – the first arbitration to actually go through the hearing stage – as they had no leverage with the independent arbitrator.

Weber earned $4.5 million in each of the last three seasons and is about to turn 26 years of age (August 14th).  He’s an excellent skater with a booming shot who can hit and will even fight, whatever it takes to win.

He is the Predators captain.  He is their best and most-recognizable player, possibly in Nashville’s NHL existence.  He is the very face of their franchise.

During the 2010-11 campaign Weber scored 16 goals for a second-consecutive season, while recording a career-high 32 assists.  He was a first-time Norris Trophy finalist, appeared in every regular season game, and played the third-most minutes in the entire league.

In his first season as team captain, the Predators won their first playoff series since their inception in 1998.

Nashville currently has the league’s lowest payroll at just over $41.2 million, which leaves them with more than $23 million in cap space.  But GM David Poile also faces the prospect of having to re-sign two key pieces to the success of his squad moving forward.  Both goaltender Pekka Rinne and defenseman Ryan Suter are set to become unrestricted free agents following the upcoming season.

Prior to the hearing today – in which both sides were able to present their respective cases for 90 minutes each - Weber was to opt for either a one or two year deal.

The arbitrator has up to 48 hours in which to render their decision, one in which the Predators will have to accept.  They relinquished their “walk-away” rights because they were the ones that opted for arbitration.  By doing so, they kept other clubs at bay from being able to submit any offer sheets to Weber.

There is little doubt that Weber will end up with a contract in the $7.5-$8 million range when the award is announced.

While Nashville and the Weber camp can still attempt to hammer out a long-term pact after the award, the arbitration process is a bitter one that often leads to the demise in the player-team relationship.

Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck posted the following this morning:

Teams and players that go through this process tend not to stick together long-term. In Preds history, Denny Lambert was traded just days after his hearing, and Ville Koistinen was gone a year after his. Daniel Winnik was traded by Phoenix within a year of his award in 2009, as was Milan Jurcina in Washington and Blake Wheeler (2010) in Boston. By my count, 11 players have gone through arbitration in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and 10 of those players had moved to a new team within a year.

The uncomfortable, but natural question coming out of all this is whether the Shea Weber era in Nashville might end before it even got rolling.

Given the point that’s been reached, is this the guy the Preds really want wearing the “C”? Does he even want it? And what does this mean for the prospect of locking up Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne as well?”

I’m not trying to be alarmist, but arbitration most often signals the beginning of the end of a player-team relationship, and it’s stunning to see the Predators and their captain get to this point.

Those are some very real concerns, as it could not have been a good situation for Weber to hear Nashville’s representatives go on for an hour and a half as to why their captain isn’t worth the money he is requesting.

As this scene plays out, it’s obvious that there are some very curious parties on the West coast that are keeping close tabs on the eventual outcome.

While the Weber award won’t be the ultimate comparator in Doughty’s negotiations – this will be Weber’s third deal as compared to Doughty’s second – you can bet that those looking out for the London, Ontario-native will use it as some sort of measuring stick.

Photo Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

The contract negotiations between the Los Angeles Kings and another RFA star defenseman, Drew Doughty, has languished for some time.  Many believe Doughty’s camp is awaiting the Weber – Predators standoff to reach its finality to see where their demands can be taken.

Doughty’s agents from Newport Sports Management Inc., Don Meehan and Mark Guy, are looking for a huge upgrade on their client’s recently completed $3.475 million entry-level deal.

According to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times in a story on July 12th, GM Dean Lombardi and the Kings reportedly offered Doughty a 9-year deal worth in excess of $6.5 million per season.

At just 21 years old, Doughty has shown the potential to be a franchise defenseman.  After his rookie season of 2008-09, the young rear guard broke out in his sophomore year with a 16-goal, 59-point campaign in 2009-10.

Doughty also helped lead Team Canada to a Gold Medal victory in the Olympic Games in Vancouver in February of 2010 (a squad that just so happened to also boast the talents of Weber on the blue line).  Just when it looked as though he was on his way to becoming a superstar, Doughty experienced a bit of a hiccup early on last year.

He showed up to training camp out of shape, reportedly finishing last overall in conditioning scores for all Kings players.  After an understandable slow start, he came on as the year progressed to end the season with 11 goals and 40 points.

There is no reason to doubt that Doughty will return to top form come October when the regular season commences.  The smooth-skating, hard-shooting right hander is still the NHL’s top young defenseman.  The sky is the limit, and Meehan and Guy want to make sure that he’s not under-compensated as he progresses.

One of the sticking points in negotiations may very well be when Doughty is able to become an UFA.  He is eligible in four years, so that may be more the length of a deal that his representation is willing to explore.

According to CapGeek.com, the top 25 highest salaried defensemen (led by Christian Ehrhoff’s $10 million, and soon to be joined by Weber’s award) will each make $5 million heading into the 2011-12 season, so their concerns are within reason.

But from Lombardi’s point of view, the youngest among the top 25 is Mike Green of the Washington Capitals.  Green turns 26 in October and has been in the league since the latter part of the 2005-06 campaign.  Los Angeles may want Doughty to either lock into the long-term deal reportedly offered last month, or take a lesser amount annually if he insists on signing a shorter-term pact.

At the epicenter of the moment right now – seemingly holding up both player’s contracts – is Weber’s arbitration decision.

The very fate of both defensemen – as well as their respective clubs – could very well hinge on the arbitrator’s upcoming award.  It stands to reason that once Weber’s award is announced, the talks between Doughty and the Kings will begin again in earnest.


If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle