What If … the Predators had let Shea Weber walk? (NHL Alternate History)

 

(Ed. Note: It’s the NHL Alternate History project! We’ve asked fans and bloggers from 31 teams to pick one turning point in their franchise’s history and ask ‘what if things had gone differently?’ Trades, hirings, firings, wins, losses, injuries … all of it. How would one different outcome change the course of history for an NHL team? Today Hannah Stuart on the Nashville Predators! Enjoy!) 

By Hannah Stuart

When considering singular events in Nashville Predators history that would’ve entirely changed the course of the franchise, myriad options came to mind. A prominent one recently made the rounds on social media on its 10th anniversary—the 2007 “Save Our Preds” rally. Who knows where the team would be today, had thousands of fans not gathered on Lower Broadway to express their desire to keep their team?

(Hamilton. The team would probably be in Hamilton. Which in itself spawns more questions—would the Thrashers, then, have moved back to Winnipeg after all? Would we have been forced to deal with eight Canadian NHL teams?)

One possibility, however, stood out as too obvious to ignore. If this near-miss had gone the other way, it would’ve set the Predators on course to be nowhere near the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

A cotnract worth $110 million over 14 years is a hefty price, even in today’s salary market. For the extensive ways that contract has benefited the Predators in the years since, it’s been more than worth it. To put it less politely: an entire book could be written on how completely screwed the Predators would’ve been, both in the short- and the long-term, if they hadn’t matched the Philadelphia Flyers’ offer sheet.

Go back in time with me and consider a world in which, in 2012, a butterfly flapped its wings and David Poile chose not to keep Predators captain Shea Weber.

Down the Rabbit Hole

When you pull on the Weber thread, the entire tapestry unravels.

In a world where Poile thought to himself, “That’s just too much money”, the Predators would’ve walked away with four extra first-round draft picks (in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively) and a nice chunk of cap space. They would’ve also walked away with a gaping hole on defense that would reverberate throughout the entire roster.

At that point, the Predators’ defensive core would’ve been Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Klein, and … Hal Gill. With a side of Scott Hannan and Jack Hillen, and a dash of Victor Bartley.

At that point in his career, Mattias Ekholm had played exactly two NHL games; he didn’t become a regular contributor until Barry Trotz’s final season with the team in 2013-2014.

(There are several relevant rabbit holes we’re not traveling down in this piece. How the Trotz, and subsequently Laviolette, situation would’ve played out in this world is one of them.)

No way around it—Poile would’ve had to make a trade.

The problem is, there was no one to trade for. It was mid-July, after free agent frenzy died down, and anyone worth having was signed or unavailable.

Well, almost anyone. Ironically, a trade involving P.K. Subban was allegedly discussed between the Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens that summer after the Weber offer sheet fell through. It’s possible that, with no resolution on a new contract for Subban, Bergevin may have considered trading him to the Predators in summer 2012 of this alternate universe.

However, even at that point a Subban trade would’ve required a significant roster piece going back to the Canadiens. As there weren’t many appealing options to choose from outside the core, however, making that trade would’ve hamstrung the team more than helped it.

Without Weber to send to Montreal in exchange for Subban (which, in itself, in 2012 would not have been as good a move for Nashville as it was in 2016), the trade would’ve mortgaged the future to stay afloat in the present, rather than boosting an already strong roster to the level of Cup contenders. That’s poor asset management. As is just about every move the Predators would’ve been forced to make following Weber’s hypothetical flight to Philadelphia.

There are several ways the draft-pick scenario could’ve played out. Trading one of the 2013 first-rounders as part of an overpayment package for a defenseman would’ve been an option—not both, of course, because even in a universe where David Poile can get bamboozled rather than doing the bamboozling himself, he’s not going to trade two first-rounders in the same year. The lack of Weber would mean a worse finish for the Predators, which could’ve given them a better weighted chance at a higher pick. Given how weird the NHL Draft Lottery can be, though, it may have instead given them a better chance at getting utterly screwed.

At any rate, it’s unlikely a scenario in which the Predators lose Weber in 2012 results in the Predators drafting Seth Jones in 2013. If you draft higher it’s difficult to justify not taking Nathan MacKinnon or Aleksander Barkov, particularly with the benefit of hindsight; if you draft lower, Jones is already gone.

Eyes on the Future

Let’s fast-forward to January 2016. Like the Subban move that came later that summer, the Johansen move was to boost a good roster—not to keep heads above water. Without Seth Jones, however, Poile can’t make that trade unless it’s a treading-water approach, because it would mean giving up Josi or Ellis. Giving up Josi or Ellis in 2016 would be a worse decision than giving up Josi or Ellis in 2012.

Without Johansen, the Predators’ top-line center would be Mike Fisher, because the other options are guys like Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok. There’s no JOFA line, there’s no patience for contributors like Pontus Aberg to develop, and there’s no moving past the first round of the playoffs the next year, much less a trip to the Cup Final, thus depriving the hockey world of the show it got this year when hockey stayed in Nashville through June.

Letting Weber go means that the one of the Predators’ biggest strengths—a solid defensive corps from top to bottom—becomes perhaps the team’s biggest weakness. The buck doesn’t stop at Weber; there’s no Jones and potentially no Subban, and Josi and Ellis are pushed into top minutes before they’re necessarily ready. The Klein trade in 2014 probably never happens (and that year’s draft pick situation would’ve changed, which could’ve potentially meant no Viktor Arvidsson). And the ripple effect continues down the lineup.

Matching the Weber offer sheet may have cost the Predators a lot money-wise, but it set off a ripple effect down the lineup and through the depth of the organization that (despite Weber not being on the roster) allowed the Predators to make the 2017 Cup Final.

More than that, though, Poile’s asset management put them in a position not unlike the Pittsburgh Penguins team who went home empty-handed in June 2008 — well poised to return to the arena a year later and claim the prize they were denied.

Hannah Stuart is a prospect writer for @FanRagNHL  and co-founder of high heels & high sticks.

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