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Weber, Suter focus on playoffs; contracts later

Sunday, 01.29.2012 / 9:00 PM / NHL Insider

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Weber, Suter focus on playoffs; contracts later
Suter, Weber address contract situations with Nashville
Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter said Friday he didn't anticipate signing a long-term deal before the League's trade deadline on Feb. 27. Suter made his comments during the 2012 NHL All-Star Media Day presented by Allstate.

Suter will be an unrestricted free agent following the season while teammate and fellow All-Star defenseman Shea Weber will be a restricted free agent for the second consecutive summer. Weber was awarded through arbitration a record-setting one-year, $7.5 million contract in August after he and the Predators were unable to come to terms on a long-term deal.

Weber and the Predators were allowed to negotiate a new deal after Jan. 1, but the Norris Trophy-worthy 26-year-old would rather wait till the offseason to worry about his contract. Suter indicated Friday he doesn't want 

"I don't really like to think about it, especially during the season. It's stressful enough during the summer with the negotiation and arbitration. Right now, I'm not focused on that. It's a place I love to play. If we can keep guys around and keep getting better, then it's a place I want to stay. They want to talk, but right now, I'd rather just play. Especially with the way the Western Conference is. It's tight. You can't afford to have any nights off."
-- Shea Weber

"I don't really like to think about it, especially during the season," Weber told NHL.com recently. "It's stressful enough during the summer with the negotiation and arbitration. Right now, I'm not focused on that. It's a place I love to play. If we can keep guys around and keep getting better, then it's a place I want to stay."

Suter lacks the gaudy offensive numbers Weber possesses, but he's just as valuable.

After posting four goals and 35 assists in 70 games last season, the 26-year-old has five goals and 23 assists in 47 games this season. He is third in the NHL in ice time at 26:28 per game.

Weber and Suter have known almost nothing but success with the Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of the six seasons both have been in Nashville. Last season, the Predators advanced to the second round for the first time in franchise history, a sign that the team is headed in the right direction -- something that's very important for Weber.

"The Predators organization is a smart organization right from the top. They draft well, they develop their players and find a way," Weber said. "It's pretty amazing. I think you keep a group of core players together and fill in the holes. That leads to success."

Weber's contract situation is irrevocably tied to that of Suter, who has been negotiating with the GM David Poile during the season. As a UFA, Suter is the more pressing concern. Poile told The Tennessean last week if he feels that he'll be unable to lock up Suter before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, he'll have to consider trading him.

"I envision our franchise for years to come having Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, but I have to get them signed for that vision to become a reality," Poile told NHL.com. "Everything else, including the trade deadline, is secondary to that."

Weber and Suter broke into the League together in 2005-06. Each said they have had talks about their contract situations with the other.

"Everything is good in Nashville, so it's not like I don't like Nashville and I'm not signing because of that. It's just that right now we don't need that distraction. As long as we keep winning, everything is going to take care of itself." -- Ryan Suter

"We talk about it," Weber said. "We've played with each other for so long it would almost be weird not having each other around, even in the locker room. No, we talk about it. If we can keep winning and things keep going well, we'll be able to figure something out."

"I told Nashville I want to be there," Suter told NHL.com. "I love living in Nashville. My family loves it there. It's a great place to raise a family. Everything is good in Nashville, so it's not like I don't like Nashville and I'm not signing because of that. It's just that right now we don't need that distraction. As long as we keep winning, everything is going to take care of itself."

"I was surprised maybe that it took that long for him to get that off his chest," Weber said Friday at media day. "Obviously, we talk a lot. It’s been weighing for him a while. Obviously David has been trying to get a deal done. Ryan doesn’t want to deal with it now and that’s why he came forward and said that."

The Predators have about $14 million in cap space, which should be enough to retain the services of both Suter and Weber. Coach Barry Trotz believes once the cloud of their contracts is lifted and they are signed long-term, the Predators will be able to attract other big-name free agents.

Trotz admitted the prospect of losing one or both this summer is something about which he has thought.

"It's been a topic of conversation, so if I say I'd never thought about it, I'd absolutely be lying to your face," Trotz said. "We have a really young team. We're set up in terms of payroll to have both those guys long term and I know ownership is committed there. And it's hard to add till they're there, because all the top players you look at, they're waiting to see what happens with those two. That's where we are.

"Once we get those guys under wraps, we'll get some other guys."

The Predators have sold out eight of their past nine home games and are playing to about 97-percent capacity at Bridgestone Arena. Some will say that Nashville isn't a hockey city, but the 14-year-old franchise has developed into one of the better markets in the NHL.

Combine that with the success of the Predators, who are just five points behind the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the Western Conference, and the city of Nashville is an attractive place for Weber.

"I don't think a lot of people realize it," Weber said of Nashville being a hockey town. "We sold out eight straight and just barely missed the ninth. It's a great hockey city. People recognize you when you go out. They love the Preds. Especially after last year's run, they're excited for hockey."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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