Could the Preds trade Shea Weber next summer?

Shea Weber vs VAN (Sarah Fuqua)

What’s the one thing the Nashville Predators have always needed? A dynamic scoring forward. And how have Stanley Cup winning teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins found theirs? At the top of the NHL Draft.

“Sometimes you have to be really bad in order to get them,” Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton said. “We don’t want to do that.”

Speaking of “really bad,” the Blackhawks brought Patrick Kane (#1 overall, 2007) and Jonathan Toews (#3, 2006) into the fold thanks to several terrible years. Likewise, the Penguins snagged two of the best players in the world in Evgeni Malkin (#2, 2004) and Sidney Crosby (#1, 2005) after losing 41, 47 and 48 games in back-to-back-to-back seasons. Since dropping the puck at 501 Broadway back in 1998, Nashville has never been bad enough to snag a top three draft pick and, for obvious reasons, they’d like to keep it that way.

The Predators are known for world-class goaltending and solid defense. With Pekka Rinne between the pipes for at least another five years and a blueline that boasts names like Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis, Michael Del Zotto and Mattias Ekholm, the back end seems to be pretty well solidified for years to come as well.

So that leaves offense. Craig Smith emerged as a weapon last year and Colin Wilson has shown brief glimpses throughout his five-year career but, right now, there aren’t any legitimate elite forwards on the roster. So how does Nashville go about acquiring one?

“There are different ways to do it,” Fenton explained. “There are ways to get an elite offensive guy through free agency, through a trade at the trade deadline, there’s all sorts of different ways to do it. But we have to decide when, where and what the assets are that we can afford to give up — or afford to draft — to get those certain guys.”

Free agency this summer features just a few big names.

“If we narrow it down to forwards, I don’t think any hockey guy could name five high-end free agents,” Preds GM David Poile told 102.5 The Game. “So, five into 30 teams, that doesn’t give you much of a chance.”

For sake of argument, however, here’s the three “top prizes” available to the highest bidder on July 1. Colorado’s Paul Stastny is a top line center who has posted 70+ points three times in his career and showed a ton of chemistry with Smith at the 2013 World Championships. Montreal’s Thomas Vanek is a two-time 40-goal scorer but saw time on the fourth line while the Canadiens played in the Eastern Conference Finals. Minnesota’s Matt Moulson has scored 30+ goals three different times but hasn’t really done anything of note since leaving Long Island.

Are any of the three worth the big bucks required to beat out 29 other bids? More importantly, with all the changes going on in the organization right now, would ownership really be willing to cut a big check?

“I’m confident that they would on the right player,” Poile said. “But I’m not confident that that player is available.”

Looks like we can rule out this year’s free agency class. Which brings us to the draft.

In less than a month, the Predators will be picking 11th in a draft that features just a handful of high-end prospects in forwards Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. While all good players, none of them have the buzz that next year’s cream of the crop does.

The 2015 Draft will feature two of the most anticipated forwards since 2005 when Crosby and Bobby Ryan headlined the annual event. Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters has been tabbed as 2015′s first overall pick since 2012. Not only did he break into the OHL as a 15-year old but he started a 15-game scoring streak in just his second ever game. He finished the season – again, as a 15/16 year old – at a point-per-game clip and followed that up with 99 points in 56 games this year.

“He’s a franchise player,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill told NHL.com back in November. “Somebody is going to draft him and he’s going to be the cornerstone of the franchise for 15, 20 years. Those players only come along so often.”

Joining McDavid in the “can’t miss” category is American center Jack Eichel. This past season, the Chelmsford, Massachusetts native was part of the under-18 United States Development Team posting 87 points in 53 games. He also participated in the World Junior Championships for Team USA, finishing with five points in five games. He’s committed to Boston University next season and will have one heckuva spotlight on him as a freshman.

“Even if you were an alien from a spaceship who had never seen hockey, and you watched this kid, you would say, ‘Good Lord, that’s a talented athlete,’” Brian Burke, Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations, told USA Today.

In short, there are two “can’t miss” prospects there for the taking if your team is among the worst in the league next season. But the Predators have only been that bad once in their 15-season history. In the lockout-shortened year of 2012-13, they finished with the fourth worst record and, as a result, chose fourth. There were three stud forwards and one stud defenseman that headlined the draft class. The Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning each took one of the forwards, leaving Jones – the top rated player depending on who you talk to – there for the Preds.

“Last year, when Seth Jones came to us, should we have said we weren’t going to take a defenseman who’s going to be a franchise defenseman?” Fenton said. “This guy is going to be a 15-year absolute all-star who will win the Norris Trophy just like Weber will one day.”

If that’s true, that would mean Nashville will have two franchise blueliners. And two franchise blueliners means assets. And assets means bargaining chips. And bargaining chips means trade possibilities.

No matter how bad you think they are, the Predators will not be the NHL’s worst team next year. Therefore, short of winning the NHL Draft Lottery, they won’t have a chance to grab McDavid or Eichel. But what if they traded up? No team is going to voluntarily step away from a McDavid or Eichel for the ol’ “Blum, Wilson and a first” type of trade so the Preds would have to part with a significant piece.

Weber is that piece.

The three-time Norris Trophy finalist is known as the most well-rounded defenseman in the league. If he were to become available, he would command a king’s ransom. A king’s ransom that should include a first round pick. So, if you’re Poile and the Predators, why not wait until the 2015 lottery concludes, see who has the top two choices, immediately pick up the phone?

But if they have two franchise blueliners, why not trade Jones? First off, he won’t even be of drinking age next summer which means he has his entire career ahead of him. Weber, on the other hand, will be a couple months shy of 30 (which is hardly old but, in a couple years, won’t be in the prime of his career anymore). Second, Jones is cheaper. Nashville was forced to sign Weber to that monster 14-year, $110 million deal in 2012 thanks to an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. Not only is he due $14 million a year in salary through 2015-16 and then $12 million through 2017-18, but he also earns a $13 million signing bonus each of the next two seasons and then $8 million the following two. If Jones continues to emerge as a franchise defenseman, the Predators could take a calculated risk and ship Weber out for that final piece to a possible Stanley Cup puzzle.

Imagine what a McDavid or Eichel could do for the Predators brand. Look what Steven Stamkos (#1, 2008) did for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Or what John Tavares (#1, 2009) did for the New York Islanders. Both were clubs who desperately needed an identity. While the Preds already have a strong identity with Rinne and Weber, they desperately need one up front and picking a superstar like McDavid or Eichel could give them just that. It could also give them jersey sales and nationally televised games and a marketable “face of the league,” all of which go a long way when it comes to revenue.

Every GM will tell you that, in order to get something, you have to give up something. Nobody would actually want to trade Weber but doing so could be a necessary evil in order to get to the promised land.

All that said, hopefully the Predators can find another way to acquire that elite forward. After all, “there are different ways to do it.”


PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua (used with permission)

9 Comments

  1. musamonster

    May 30, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Are you saying that we could trade Weber for the 1st or 2nd pick in next year’s draft? Because I don’t think whoever lands those picks would give them up for Weber.

    The time to trade Weber is this summer, before we give him another $13 mil check, while his trade value is at its highest, and there are teams desperate enough for his services to give up the goods for him. Whoever get’s those top 2 picks next summer won’t be “an elite D man away”… But teams who want that D man (and the Oilers, who are desperate for a change) have the good to give up for him. Josi developing fills in the hole Weber would leave, and I’ll bite the bullet of having to wait for Jones to develop if it nets us Taylor Hall, the 3rd OA, and another D man prospect.

  2. Doug

    May 30, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I am SO tired of hearing “trade Weber” talk. I would rather keep him and wait around for a scorer however we get him than to ever trade the face of our franchise !

    • musamonster

      May 30, 2014 at 11:52 am

      And just where will that scorer come from? We’ve been waiting for some time now. We aren’t bombing bad enough to nail the top forwards in the draft, we can roll the dice in free agency, but every team has money these days and every team wants Stastny and Vanek. A trade is the bast way to do it, and unless we send off Ellis and our first in a package for Spezza, Weber is the single best trade asset, the single most overpaid paid player on the team. Trade Weber now and in 3-4 years we could be a real contender.

      Don’t be a slave to “face of the franchise”, be a slave to “winning”.

    • Jeremy K. Gover

      May 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      Doug – Just to be clear, nobody’s saying “trade Weber.” I’m saying they COULD but this would be the only scenario in which it’s “acceptable.”

  3. brainard

    May 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    If you could land first pick for weber it’s well worth it to land mcdavid. Hear me out. #1 to get a high skill forward we need cap. #2 Josi and Jones will be more mature. #3 this is going to be Lavs system not trotz #4 mcdavid is going to be huge you’re either going to have him on your team or cuss every time you play him. Don’t get me wrong weber is the best defenseman in the league but mcdavid will soon be the best forward in the league

    • John

      June 2, 2014 at 11:24 am

      You have a guy in this years that draft that due to shoulder surgery, will fall off many guys lists (Jake Virtanen) who would make an excellent Predator. He has size, amazing skills, and great leadership qualities for a 17 year old. As a trucker, I travel a bit…especially BC-AB runs and I listened to the Hitmen games all the time on the radio. The kid is dynamic. You add him, then make a deal with the the defensive depth the team has, say…Ellis, and Wilson and a 3rd or a 2nd to Vancouver for Kesler, you now have another leader who knows what it takes to go to the finals (he single handledly killed the Preds on the Nucks run to the finals) who as long as he can stay healthy will fill a huge void in the middle, be a true 1st line Centre, add Power forward VIrtanen and Hornqvist on the wings. Voila…instant 1st line that will hurt teams.

      Want to know how good Virtanen is, here is a link to the Edmonton Journal who said they feel they should trade down to get him (even though they already have a plethera of young talented forwards.

      http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2014/05/01/scouting-report-top-10-prospect-jake-virtanen-might-be-viable-option-if-oilers-trade-down/

      The Preds could then mix and match Spaling, Craig, Fisher, Gaustad, Stalhberg, Cullin, Nystrom into the next 2 lines. The fact the Preds have 3 2nd/3rd lines and no real first line hurt them. The games that Radulov played didn’t help any either. If Virtanen is delayed any with the shoulder surgery any, then Craig can fill in until Virtanen can prove that he’s healthy and deserves the 1st line role.

      To trade Weber, would be to throw the baby out with the bath water. He IS THE KEY. He makes everyone including himself accountable. He is the face of this franchise, and the reason why players would be entertained to go to Nashville.

      McDavid may be the “next one”, but Virtanen isn’t that far off, and is pro-ready when his shoulder is healed and won’t mean breaking up the strongest part of this team going forward.

      • John

        June 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

        By the way, want to see Virtanen in action….here ya go. A true sniper, who at the Prospects game was not only the fastest guy forwards…but also backwards. He’s also willing to go thru people when he has the puck and not just around them all the time. See for yourself. This is one special kid…and remember, he is only 17, and already 6’1, and 212 lbs

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