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 in 2007.
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 just two years later.
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 in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Those picks ended up being Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and what became German Rubtsov. Two of those four players are current pillars of the Flyers defense, including Provorov, their current number one defenseman.
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 defensemen 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.
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 headed down the “bust” rout after two lackluster seasons with the Phantoms. Samuel Morin’s career never really took off thanks to two ACL tears that limited him right as he was supposed to make the jump to the NHL. 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 defenseman probably isn’t worth Shea Weber.
The MacDonald Years
The Flyers defense corps began to spiral out of control in 2012-13. Led 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 late in the 2014-15 season, they were left with a lackluster unit consisting of Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, and Andrew MacDonald.
MacDonald was Paul Holmgren’s solution for the gaping hole in the Flyers’ defense. He 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 2022, and basically retired, Weber still has four years left on that contract at a whopping $7.8 million aav. When Shea Weber was healthy he was still a force to be reckoned with. He was still a key piece in the Canadien’s Cup run in 2021. Though since his arrival in Montreal in 2016 he’s only played 275 out of 373 games dealing with a lingering foot injury which ultimately put his career on ice. Though through his 275 games, he posted 58 goals and 146 points. He was a game changer and producer right up until the very end. He’ll turn 37 in August.
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 while out hunting. 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. He expressed interest in staying in Philly for another season, but no contract was ever offered and Jagr went to Dallas instead.
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 expiring $3.4 cap hit. 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, but a legitimate top pair would’ve been had. 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 highest paid player on the current roster. 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. 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. As expected when he signed the deal, he wasn’t going to see the whole thing through. A foot injury has essentially forced him to retire with four years left on his contract. So in the end, the Flyers avoided the messy cap implications that would’ve followed, but they also lost out on one of the best defenseman of his era and suffered through years of a ugly on-ice product because of it. 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)
photo credit: espn.com