Chairman Tom Cigarran:
It’s a good day to be a Predators fan, and even better days ahead of us. I’d like to thank all of you for being here today – the most loyal of our very loyal fans. At the Predators, we have a three-way working relationship among Ownership, Hockey Operations and Business Operations. Owners provide the basic funding for the team and make sure we have the very best leadership throughout our organization. Hockey Operations job is to make sure that we have an elite, winning franchise on the ice year after year. Business Operations’ job is to make sure we operate as an elite franchise off the ice and that our current fans have reasons to continue their active support of the Predators and that we create new fans every day. These three parts of our organization work very hard, very effectively, and seamlessly to get us to the decision to make Shea Weber our team captain and leader for the next 14 years.
Just a few points, and I’ll turn this over to Jeff and David. Shea is our leader; we did what it took to keep him a Predator. The Predators are not here just to survive, but to be an elite franchise that competes for the Cup every year. Signing Shea is clear evidence of this organization’s commitment to our fans and to our city. Players who are with other organizations around the league and those organizations can now see that the Nashville Predators will not be pushed around by teams from bigger markets. There is an old saying – it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and this is very true; this dog will fight on and off the ice. We will have a great team again this coming season and we can’t wait for this new season to begin. On to the Cup, and thank you for being here today.
CEO Jeff Cogen
Mr. Cigarran referenced this three way partnership that we have internally. David will tell you, from a hockey perspective, there was very little doubt: we have the best defenseman in the league, and from a hockey perspective, the answer was yes, match. The business decision was a little more complex, but at the end of the day, it came down to one issue for our group – we have the best fans in the National Hockey League. We owe it to these fans to continue to do what we’ve been doing and build upon it, and not go backwards. It came down to that simple point. For you fans that provided us with 25 sellouts last year, to you fans that fill the building and make us more appealing to corporate Middle Tennessee so they step up and also support our organization, and you fans that doubled our TV ratings last year – this is for you. It’s deserving, and as Tom said we can’t wait to get started and prove to you that we made the right decision. Thank you.
President of Hockey Operations/ General Manager David Poile
Thank you fans for coming out. I’ll share with you a little bit of a story when we decided that we were going to math the offer. I called my best man yesterday, that would be coach Barry Trotz, who lives about 25 minutes away from Shea in the summer in Kelowna, British Columbia. What we wanted to do is have Shea learn this before anybody else in the NHL, the media, etc. I sent Barry over to Shea’s gym in Kelowna. When he got there Shea had already left from his workout, so Barry texts Shea and says “I need to talk to you.” Shea texted back right away and said, “I can’t talk to you during this seven-day period,” and Barry texted back and says “No, I really need to talk to you.”
Finally, Shea called Barry back and Barry told him the good news. Shea said “Great! Where are you?” Barry said “Downtown Kelowna.” Shea said, “Come on over to the house” and Barry went over to Shea’s house with his fiancé Bailey. They called me on the phone and Shea just said it was great to be back with the Predators.
Again, you always look better as a general manager with the top players and we have one of the best in the world in Shea Weber. I think it’s also important in this process that so many of our players reach out to myself and to Barry and called us and reinforced what we already knew as far as how important Shea was to the hockey club. Hal Gill, who has just been here for a little while, told me not only how good of player Shea was, but how great of a leader he was on our team. You saw the comments from Mike Fisher today. David Legwand called me and our newest goalie Chris Mason gave me a call. It was great to hear from the players and their standpoint.
One more story – in my former career as a general manager of the Washington Capitals a long, long time ago, I had a young defenseman the same as Shea Weber. His name was Scott Stevens. Scott Stevens is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was tendered an offer sheet from the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately at that time, our team, the Washington Capitals, decided that we would not match that offer sheet. As I’ve said, it’s probably one of the decisions I wish I could have turned around at the time. Stevens went on to New Jersey to play with Martin Brodeur, who is still playing by the way, and they won three Stanley Cups together. Stevens was a First or Second team all-star 11 seasons in the National Hockey League. Not only did the team win Stanley Cups, but they were competitive year after year. With Shea Weber on defense and Pekka Rinne in goal, I think we have the same model that New Jersey had. Obviously, we would love to emulate the success that they had. That’s the goal, and that’s where I think the future is at.
Last words: I’d like to thank Tom and all the ownership. In the last couple years since they’ve taken over the hockey club, to me, this has been the best two years of our franchise. It has been the most fun of our franchise, starting with trading for Mike Fisher at the trade deadline two years ago, to getting Gaustad, Gill, Radulov, [Andrei] Kostitsyn at the trading deadline this year. We’re a team that’s competing, we’re a team that’s aggressive, and we’ve got the ownership that’s backing it up. Thank you very much. I look forward to getting to a cooler environment in there in a couple of months when trading camp starts. Thanks all for coming today.
On the emotions surrounding this decision process…
David Poile: Well, it was very emotional as you said, but as Tom and Jeff referred to, it was actually a very interesting four or five days. If anything, I think it probably brought our organization even more together than it was. The fact that everybody got involved in the decision, as Jeff and Tom canvassed for the hockey side and business side, we had everybody giving their input. At the end of the day when we knew what we were going to do, I think it really galvanized our whole organization from the sales staff to the hockey operations. We’ve all in this together and everybody believes that we made the right decision. I know we made the right decision.
Jeff Cogen: It was important to us before we sent the press release out yesterday was that we let the staff know first. I put together an email and sent it to all arena employees basically telling the decision we made and why we made it, and now let’s go validate that decision. I pushed send, and I would say in about 9-12 seconds, there was a roar from the first floor, the second floor, and the third floor that reminded me of the clinch against Detroit at home here.
On Shea Weber’s commitment to the Predators long term…
Poile: This is a commitment that we made and that he made for 14 years. We’ve got the foundation piece and pieces in other players that it’s going to take to compete, challenge, and win the Stanley Cup. You only get these opportunities so often in every franchise, so he’s ours. I don’t know if I’m going to last for 14 years, but it’s safe to say he’ll be here as long as I’m here.
On the complications surrounding the front-loaded contract…
Cigarran: It wasn’t a question of if we could come up with the money for the four years, it was a question of if we did that, were we compromising our ability over time to pay enough players a market price so that we can be the elite franchise that we’re determined to be. There was a number where we would have said no, we probably can’t do it, but pretty quickly Jeff, David and I, and others, concluded that we could do it, and that we still would have the team that it would take to be the elite franchise that we want. Even in the first year, we have signed all of our players that are up right now. Our team next year is going to be a better team than this year, even without Ryan Suter. We’re going to have all our kids – our younger players. They’re a year older. They have another year of NHL experience. They see what it’s like and they see what it takes to compete. We have veterans like Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad who are serious players and can play with us a whole season, not just the last month or so of the regular season. Everybody involved in hockey is excited about that. That was a critical thing that we had to assess. Not just this year, but the year after that as contracts come out and we concluded that hockey operations said we can definitely be the team we want to be within that context, and we pay Shea Weber’s contract as it’s written.
On possible future moves to complete the roster following the Weber signing…
Poile: We’ve always looking, whether it’s right now or during the season. The timing right now with free agency is not exhausted, but there’s not as many players out there that you would normally want to look at. There could be some trade possibilities. I’m talking as a GM, you just never know. We’re going to make our trades and make our additions when the time is right to do it. The last couple years have been at the trading deadline more than the other areas. We’re also pretty bullish on some of our younger players. We did a lot of that last year in moving in some of the younger players. I think, with defense, with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, I really see them playing a bigger role for us, and deservedly so. Again, in terms of how things are going to play out, I think we have enough depth in a lot of areas. We’re a really good team now. Can we be better? Yes. We’re going to try and take advantage of some other opportunities as they come up. Absolutely. I just can’t tell you when exactly that is going to be.
On Weber’s agents possibly wanting to add a no-trade clause to the contract…
Poile: I’ve talked to them. I need to talk to them on details. The offer sheet and standard contract differ a little bit and that’s one of the details I have to talk to them about.
On the “rebuilding” comments made by Shea Weber’s agent…
Poile: I didn’t like to hear that. Obviously, I’m hoping those are his thoughts and not Shea’s thoughts. I guess you could say if we didn’t have Shea, we would be rebuilding, but with Shea I don’t see that. As I look at our lineup, let’s go by position – our goaltending is as good as anybody in the league with Pekka and Chris Mason. On defense, we don’t have Ryan Suter back, but we do have Shea Weber, who is a Norris Trophy finalist. We have Kevin Klein, who doesn’t get any publicity at all. He just plays a steady game and goes about his business. We have Hal Gill back for a full season and he’s probably going to be paired with one of the younger guys, Ryan Ellis or Blum or Ekholm. Gill is a fabulous guy, as everyone knows, he’s a great mentor, he has won a Stanley Cup. Roman Josi, I don’t want to be pumping his tires too much, but I really think he’s a top young player. I’m really not worried about our defense in terms of our depth. Our forwards always seem to get criticized, but we were top 10 in the league in power play, we were top 10 in the league in penalty killing.
This year again with Paul Gaustad, he’s the perfect player for our coaches to have. Not that he’s going to put up big stats, but he fixes everything, as Barry would like to say. So he’s going to be taking all the key face-offs – offensively and defensively – killing penalties, playing in front of the net, bringing in aggressive goals. Colin Wilson, who we just signed, I’m betting he’s going to have his best year with the maturity both on and off the ice. (Sergei) Kostitsyn is getting better every year. We have other younger guys who we brought up in the last part of the year in Gabriel Bourque. This kid is an excellent addition to our hockey team. He’s a great Predator. I think we’re in a really good position now. Rebuilding? I’m not thinking about that at all, so I didn’t like that word or that phrase and that’s not in our game plan to rebuild.
On the importance of being able to build around a star of Weber’s caliber…
Poile: You’ve heard me in the last year about this window of opportunity. A little over a year ago after we won our first playoff round, we made a lot of hard decisions and we let go of a lot of veteran players and started the season last year as the youngest team in the league. That, to me, started the window of opportunity. That’s where I felt, potentially, that the next 3, 4, or 5 years, as long as we keep the bulk of our team together that this was our chance to win. With Pekka signing and now with Shea signing, I think we’re well on our way to living up to that hope or that phrase with the window of opportunity. Other than a couple of guys, like Hal Gill for example, not to pick at Hal since he’s not here, but I think everybody on our team has a chance to have a career year. We’re all getting better. We’re at a place where virtually all of our players potentially can get better. We couldn’t be in a better position than we are today.