Captaincy should help Weber contract talks

July, 9, 2010

Naming Shea Weber captain was an obvious move by the Nashville Predators; but from this vantage point, it was also a very strategic one.

Weber is entering the final season of a three-year contract that pays him $4.5 million annually, and the Preds hope it won't be his last in Music City.

So giving the star defenseman the "C" is a way for the franchise to give Weber their biggest possible endorsement.

"I don't think we can give any stronger message than that," Preds GM David Poile told "And it's certainly our intention to sit down with his representatives, probably closer to training camp, and talk about the future. I think our relationship has been good and this was just the right thing to do for our organization."

Weber sounded truly touched when he spoke to after Thursday's announcement. When asked about the tie-in with a possible contract extension, the man with the NHL's hardest shot sounded enthusiastic about that, too.

"You know what, I'm definitely interested in that," Weber told "I love it here in Nashville. The fans are great. It's a great organization. If David is willing to talk about that, then obviously when that time comes, there shouldn't be much of a problem."

After the Ilya Kovalchuk soap opera and its impact on the Atlanta Thrashers this past season, and Jay Bouwmeester and the Florida Panthers the season before, we've seen just how distracting it can be to have a star player's future in limbo during his last contract year.

The difference here is Weber would become a restricted free agent next summer, so it's not like he could walk away on July 1, 2011 (not unless there's an offer sheet). Still, the Preds are faced with their biggest contract negotiation in franchise history. Unless they do a one-year deal to bridge him to unrestricted free agency (which should only be a last resort if a long-term deal can't be reached), the goal for Poile is to get his new captain under contract for several years.

Weber is a special player for the Predators; naming him captain was a proud moment for the organization.

"It's one of those turning points in your franchise history," Poile said. "He's the fifth captain but the first who has been a Predators draft pick. He's been part of the culture that we've tried to create here. I know he has the respect of his teammates, of his opponents, of everybody in the organization and of our fans. So I know he's going to be a good leader."

Once Jason Arnott was traded last month, it was crystal clear to Poile who would replace him as captain.

"When I ran into people who asked me about the captaincy, I said to them, 'What would you do?' And everybody came back with the same player," Poile said. "This is going to be a very popular decision, both within our room and within our fan base."

Weber said it a huge honor.

"I've played with some great captains since I've been here in Nashville. It's exciting," he said. "And David is doing some good things for the team, making moves, like signing [Matthew] Lombardi. I'm really excited for next year."

There's some unfinished business. Weber still can't get rid of the sour taste left in his mouth from Nashville's first-round loss against Chicago. The Preds were 13.6 seconds away from taking Game 5 against the Blackhawks at the United Center and returning home with momentum and a chance to knock out the eventual Cup champions. That's before Patrick Kane scored a short-handed goal to tie the game, setting the stage for Marian Hossa's OT heroics.

"That's been the hardest part of the summer by far," Weber said. "It's one thing if we get swept. But a situation where you have a chance to go up 3-2 and go back home, it doesn't really go away. We really cost ourselves that series. Give them credit, they're a great team and they won the Stanley Cup. But I thought we could have had a better fate in that series."

Spoken like a born leader.

"There's so many young players that have been given this responsibility," Poile said. "It's a real interesting era that we're entering into now with, you know, whether it be Ovechkin or Crosby, Toews, Nash, Weber, Dustin Brown, players at a young age being the captain and the leaders of their team."

All those other young captains Poile mentioned are signed to long-term deals. They're not going anywhere. Will Weber follow suit? That's the plan, anyway.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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