Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators are down to the final hours of negotiating before the doors to their scheduled arbitration hearing swing open and the two sides give way to a third-party ruling on what the team captain and star defenseman is worth for the 2011-12 season.
Weber is scheduled for his club-elected arbitration hearing in Toronto at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
If Weber and the Predators can't come to an agreement on a new contract, he will be the first NHL player to go through the arbitration hearing process this summer. Arbitration hearings are notorious for being contentious as the two sides argue against one another for what they feel is the proper salary for the player before the independent arbiter ultimately awards the new contract.
In Weber's case, it could be a one- or two-year contract with a significant raise from the $4.5 million he earned last season. By filing for club-elected arbitration, the Predators prevented other teams from signing Weber to an offer sheet this summer but also forfeited their rights to walk away from the arbiter's ruling.
Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Weber is not eligible to become an unrestricted free agent for another two seasons. However, he has stated his desire to stay in Nashville for the long haul and for obvious reasons the Predators clearly do not want to let the all-star blueliner out of their grasp.
Predators General Manager David Poile has built his perennial playoff team from the back-end forward and wants to keep the core foundation of goalie Pekka Rinne and defensemen Ryan Suter and Weber in Nashville for the better part of the decade. Weber, arguably the best player in Predators' history, is the first of the trio to be up for a new contract.
Suter and Rinne are entering the final years on their current contracts and can be unrestricted free agents after the upcoming season.
The salary cap is not a concern for the Predators because, according to capgeek.com, they are currently 30th in the NHL in salary for the 2011-12 season at roughly $41.2 million. That actually puts Nashville $7.1 million below the salary cap floor, but it's possible the cap hit on Weber's new contract eats up all or part of the difference regardless if it's for one year or multiple years.
Weber was a Norris Trophy finalist this past season with 16 goals and a career-best 32 assists while playing in all 82 games. In his first season as captain, the Predators beat Anaheim in six games to win their first playoff series in franchise history.
That's a really tough thing to play through; when you finally are thrown out there, the game is fast, intense, every single play matters, you've got to find a way to play through that and make smart plays. So it's a huge testament to [Vermette] and some other individuals in our locker room that are putting their own ego, their own wants and needs aside, and are ready for those opportunities when they do come.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on teammate Antoine Vermette, who returned from being a healthy scratch in Game 3 to score the double-overtime winner in Game 4