On July 19, 2012 the Philadelphia Flyers sent the richest offer sheet in NHL history to the Nashville Predators 26-year-old defenseman Shea Weber. Clocking in at $110 million over the course of 14 years, it smashed the previous record offer sheet signed by Thomas Vanek for seven years at $50 million.
The Predators already lost Weber’s partner Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild (who the Flyers also had a hand in) two weeks prior and really couldn’t afford to lose their other top defenseman. Five days after the Flyers issued the offer sheet, the Nashville Predators matched and retained Weber’s services until he was dealt to the Canadiens in the summer of 2016.
The Flyers failed to capitalize on any of the league’s top free agents in 2012, as Weber, Suter, and Zach Parise all slipped through their fingers. What followed was the downfall of the Flyers organization, as they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years and the organization went into a pseudo-rebuild under general manager Ron Hextall.
What would’ve happened if the Flyers were successful in their bid to sign Shea Weber? How different would the organization be today?
Since the Predators matched the offer sheet, the Flyers got to keep the four first round picks they would’ve sent to Nashville as compensation. Those picks ended up becoming Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and what became German Rubtsov. Two of those four players are current pillars of the Flyers defense, and Provorov their current number one defenseman.
Would the presence of Shea Weber effected of those draft picks? Possibly. The Flyers finished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference during the 2012-13 season, six points behind the Islanders for the last playoff spot. The 2012-13 season was also the year the Flyers burned through 13 different defenseman because of injuries. Shea Weber played a full 48-game season that year, and his 28 points would’ve been second on the team in scoring behind only Kimmo Timonen.
Chances are the Samuel Morin pick would’ve happened even of the Flyers picked a few spots later as Holmgren was hellbent on taking him and Morin’s rising stock probably would’ve kept him around until later in the first round.
Obviously, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov are key pillars on the current Flyers roster and both hold the potential to be superstar defenseman in their own right. German Rubtsov seems to be heading down the “bust” rout after two lackluster seasons with the Phantoms, but there is still time for him to prove himself at the NHL level. If the Flyers never drafted Sanheim or Provorov, there wouldn’t be a connection to either, but with the benefit of hindsight, passing up both of those young studs isn’t worth Shea Weber.
THE MacDONALD YEARS
The Flyers defense corps began to spiral out of control in 2012-13. Lead by 38-year-old Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers surrounded him with players such as Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nick Grossmann, Bruno Gervais, Erik Gustafsson, and Kurtis Foster. When Timonen was traded to Chicago, they were left with a lackluster unit consisting of Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, and Andrew MacDonald.
MacDoanld was Paul Holmgren’s solution for the gaping hole in the Flyers defense. AMac was awarded a six-year, $30 million extension on April 15, 2014, that contract coming just 19 games into his stint in orange and black after being acquired at the 2014 trade deadline.
But if they signed Shea Weber, there’s a good chance the Andrew MacDonald era would’ve never happened. Not only would they not have the cap space to hand out such a grotesque contract to an insipid player, but Weber might have had enough talent in his own right to keep the defense under control and especially with the addition of another capable defenseman.
THE KIMMO TIMONEN TORCH
The biggest levee that kept the Flyers defense together in 2012 and 2013 was then-38-year-old Kimmo Timonen. His career was put on ice in the 2014 off-season as he dealt with blood clots. He was eventually cleared to return and dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in pursuit of a Stanley Cup before hanging up the skates. Whose shoulders did the weight of missing Timonen fall on? 36-year-old Mark Streit, who signed a four-year deal in the summer of 2013. In fairness to Streit, he did absolutely everything in his power to carry the burden that Timonen left behind. The issue was a total lack of a supporting cast to help the veteran defenseman. Streit left Philly at the 2017 trade deadline and that left rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov as the top defeseman at just 20-years-old. Weber, who would’ve been 29-years-old at the time of Timonen’s medical leave, could’ve carried the load as the team’s number one defenseman after Timonen stepped down.
Obviously one of the biggest keys to the Shea Weber offer sheet was the length. Even in 2020, Weber still has six years left on that contract. Given the overall youth movement in the NHL, and the players getting smaller and the game getting faster, Weber’s future seems more and more bleak by the year, right? The answer is yes and no. When Shea Weber is healthy he is still a force to be reckoned with, but the key word is “healthy”. In the last three seasons, Weber has played 149 of a possible 235 games, missing a huge chunk of time with a lingering foot injury. Though in those 149 games, Weber has 35 goals and 85 points to his name. Chances are, he still has a couple good seasons in the tank. Weber will turn 35 in the middle of August and can still perform at a high level, not many players his age can say that in 2020. There are just 54 players in the league who are 34 years of age and over and most are in or past the twilight of their career, so who knows what a 41-year-old Shea weber will be capable of in 2026.
LOSING JAGR AND CARLE
One of the unintended consequences of the organization’s pursuit of Shea Weber was losing their own free agent’s they ignored in the process. Jaromir Jagr returned to the NHL in the summer of 2011 and joined the Flyers on a one-year deal. He immediately found chemistry with Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux, both of which had career years when the trio was put together.
After losing Chris Pronger early in the 2011-12 season, more weight fell on Matt Carle’s shoulders to be a key on the Flyers blueline. Kimmo Timonen wasn’t getting any younger, Andrej Meszaros’ play was wildly inconsistent, and Braydon Coburn was forced into a bigger role that he just couldn’t handle. Carle rose to the occasion in 2012, becoming the only Flyers defenseman to play in all 82 games that season while posting 38 points.
The Flyers didn’t pounce on Carle, who was looking for a healthy raise from his current contract. He ended up getting just that, as he signed a six-year, $33 million deal with the Lightning upon the start of free agency. If the Flyers persuaded Carle to come back and somehow managed to wrangle Shea Weber, the cap would’ve been blown apart. Jagr ended up signing with the Dallas Stars, who paid him $4.5 to join his first Western Conference team, a $1.2 million pay raise from his Flyers contract.
In their big-game hunt, the Flyers let two key players walk, which ended up being a catalyst for their decline over the following few seasons.
The most obvious anchor Shea Weber comes with is his $7,857,143 salary cap hit. Most of his actual contract was paid out in signing bonus money during the first four years of the deal, and his current base salary is just six million that will drop to one million in 2023. Weber would be the third-highest paid player on the team behind only Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. The Flyers could’ve easily kept Weber around during the Hextall years, as he kept his distance from the cap ceiling, but as the team continues to grow and improve, the cap space that Weber takes up would be a huge burden. Though as stated above, if Weber was here since 2012, maybe the Flyers wouldn’t have a gaggle of young defenseman demanding big money, but even still, it would make it much harder to bring on any extra weight with almost eight million tied up in one player.
Flyers history is filled with “what ifs” and not many are bigger than what if Nashville didn’t match the offer sheet? There are plenty of positives and negatives. The Flyers doldrum years happened in part by a complete collapse of the Flyers blue line, though the rebirth of the team started with the young defenseman the Flyers drafted because of the many seasons of failure. It seems safe to conclude that in the short-term Shea Weber would’ve been a huge upgrade and potentially saved the team from the worst seasons in franchise history. That being said, a beautiful flower has blossomed from the corpse of the Ron Hextall era Flyers and the groundwork for a potential Stanley Cup caliber team has been laid due to the prospects they acquired in that time. So all we can do now is sit back and laugh at the scenario and ask those captivating two words- what if?
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)