How low is too low?
Prior to Tuesday’s arbitration hearing between the Nashville Predators and All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, both sides had to submit a proposed salary figure for the captain. Multiple media outlets have reported that the Nashville Predators proposed a salary of $4.75 million while Weber’s camp countered with $8.5 million. Weber also chose to have the award to be for one year.
The arbitrator who presided over today’s hearing has 48 hours to determine how much Weber will make in the 2011-12 season.
While it is common practice in any negotiation for the prospective payer to start low and the future payee high, the $4.75 million figure from the Predators is borderline insulting to last season’s Norris Trophy runner-up. Good-natured bartering is fine when you are trying to buy a condo or a Toyota Prius, but this is one of, if not the best defensemen in the National Hockey League.
This also has the possibility to widen the schism between the two parties, and that does not bode well for the likelihood of number six staying in Nashville long term.
According to sources close to the negotiations, Weber was angered when the Predators elected to take him to arbitration. Weber believed that he was a candidate for an offer sheet, one that would ensure a big payday for the next several years. The team-elected arbitration prevented other teams from attempting to sign Weber to an offer sheet.
Just to be clear, the $4.75 million was not a contract offer on the part of the Predators, it is just the figure presented to the arbitrator in their proposal. In their negotiations leading up to Tuesday’s hearing, the sides were much closer in terms of numbers. When it came time to submit their figures to the arbitrator, Weber went up slightly on his while the Predators decreased their number to a greater degree.
Nashville’s lowball number was thrown out there hoping that the arbitrator would find a middle ground, but that is wishful thinking. The Predators have to know that they are likely to lose this arbitration, and lose it badly at that. Could that loss lead to the loss of Weber as well may be the more pertinent question.
Make no mistake about it; Weber wants to be the highest paid defenseman in the National Hockey League. He also wants to win a Stanley Cup. It will be very difficult for him to do both in Nashville.
It is well publicized that both Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne are in the final year of their deals and are set to become unrestricted free agents following next season. Suter will be looking for a new contract worth every penny of what Weber receives, and Rinne’s demand will not be too far behind.
When the arbitrator rules, Weber will be signed to a one-year deal with the Predators, but he will once again be a restricted free agent next summer. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Nashville can’t elect to take him to arbitration again next season, so the possibility of another ugly and prolonged negotiation looms large in less than 12 months, if he is still a Predator in 12 months.