Eggs Bennett 22-02
April 15, 2022
It’s a strange time in Habsland. Since the installation of the management duo of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton (HuGo), there is little to complain about. Some good hires, a successful trade deadline and vastly improved public relations make it a pleasant time to be a fan.
As the regular season draws to a close, so does the HuGo window of assessment. They are gaining a sense of who fits for the short, medium, and long terms, and while we wait for movement, decisions are already being made in the minds of management. HuGo is getting ready for the next two windows of change for the Habs – the window leading up to the draft, and the free agency window.
There is one piece of business that we don’t have to guess about – HuGo will absolutely try to move some problematic contracts. It is inevitable. Getting younger and faster necessitates moving some bodies to make room for kids. If they wish to be active in free agency, they need to clear some cap space.
In this new series I will explore the killer contracts that Marc Bergevin left in his wake, and how HuGo might move on from at least some of them. There isn’t a better place to start than at the Man Mountain of a contract – Shea Weber.
The Contract Background
Shea Weber is currently in a 14-year, $110M contract with an AAV of $7,857,143. Weber will turn 37 this coming August and has four years remaining on that deal. All signing bonuses have been paid out and the actual salary for the coming year is $3M. For the three years thereafter, the salary is a measly $1M.
How did this killer contract come to be?
Weber was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the second round of the 2003 draft. He signed his entry level contract for the 2005-06 season and played his first games for the Preds that year. Weber’s next contract was for three years and had an AAV of $4.5M. Following that, a one-year contract for $7.5M was the outcome of an arbitration process and then things got ugly.
On July 19, 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers signed Weber to an offer sheet for the killer contract we’re currently discussing. At the time, Brian Lawton described it as a hostile takeover bid. The Preds had just lost Ryan Suter and could not afford to lose Weber. They inevitably matched and Weber remained a Predator, at least temporarily.
On June 29, 2016, the Predators traded Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban. The trade was met by angst in Habsland, for several reasons. Many believed Subban was the better player – a belief that was not justified in the years that followed. Subban was a fan favourite, and many felt Bergevin was moving on from the player because he had been forced into a giant contract with Subban after foolishly negotiating a bridge deal two years earlier. Some felt may be some underlying racism involved, whether conscious or unconscious.
Fans were concerned about the age difference, and the decision to get older on defence. Weber was four years older and had just shown signs of slowing down in the playoffs. This concern is the one that holds water. Five years later, Weber had played his last game and still had five years remaining on his deal, while Subban was entering the last year of his contract.
Long term injury relief. LTIR. That’s the killer. Shea Weber has unofficially retired and was scouting out west under Bergevin, while still listed as Captain of the Montreal Canadiens and on the books for five more years. Heading into this off-season, HuGo has a four-year contract with a AAV of more than $7.5M on the books for a player whose career is done.
For a team needing cap flexibility to renovate the roster, being inhibited by LTIR is less than ideal. This is a killer contract that must move.
Fixer options fall into one of two categories – the cap floor crew and the cap-strapped crew.
The first category of potential fixers is the group of teams that will need help to hit the cap floor. The Arizona Coyotes are the perfect example of a team who will struggle to reach the cap floor for the next few seasons, and during another rebuild will appreciate the minimal dollars attached to the contract. The Habs were reported to be in discussions with Arizona before they acquired the Bryan Little contract from Winnipeg.
Any team struggling to reach the cap floor for the next few years are options to acquire the Weber contract. Here are some examples.
In the second category are those teams that are cap-strapped and could use the LTIR to find cap room. These teams were not an option at the deadline because they had to be cap compliant for a day before placing the player on LTIR. This will not be a concern in the off-season. Two teams strike me as having the chutzpah to do it.
HuGo will find a trade partner for Shea Weber before free agency opens. It will look much like the Bryan Little deal. Weber and a B prospect for a mid-to-late round pick. Habs fans should not expect to gain anything but cap space in the Weber trade.
When free agency opens we’ll see that cap space was enough.