The hockey world woke up this morning to the profoundly unexpected news that the Philadelphia Flyers had tendered an offer sheet to Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber. The offer tendered to the all-star is supposed to be a massive 14-year contract for $110 million, with $80 million paid within the first 6 years of the deal.
Something started to tickle inside me. No, I wasn't taking pleasure in this... Hell, maybe I just didn't have enough coffee this morning? Never mind... There was a peculiarity here but...
As the day progressed, there has been talk of the Predators potentially making a face-saving trade with the Flyers - dealing Weber to them (or the compensation picks that would come to them if they choose not to match the Flyers offer) for a package of players.
Again, I get the feeling that I've seen this before. This story has played out before in the past: A team in a non-traditional market with financial issues, having a (relatively) young star player snatched up by the Flyers via offer-sheet, and the face-saving transaction to compensate for the loss of the name-brand talent.
Comparing himself in song to a fairy-tale, Neil Diamond once sang, Except for the names and a few other changes, when you talk about me, the story's the same one. Replace "me" with "Chris Gratton", and those lyrics accurately convey the familiarity of the Shea Weber situation. Long-time Lightning fans have experienced this first-hand in days gone by.
Center Chris Gratton was the Lightning's 1st round draft selection in the 1993 NHL entry draft. Unlike 1992's 1st round pick Roman Hamrlik, Gratton was a native English speaker and could better serve as the face of the franchise to the fledgling market of Tampa Bay than the young Czech defenseman.
Gratton didn't produce like a franchise player, though... Not for his first few pro seasons, anyway. He was chipping in here and there with points and was certainly part of the team's plans for the future, but Gratton didn't capture league attention until the 1996-97 season when he racked up 30 goals and 32 points as the Bolts came up just shy of their second ever playoff berth. Gratton was all of 21 years old that season and his promise was on display for the entire league to behold.
And ripe for the picking.
1997 was such a troubling year for the Bolts. Japanese Ownership wanted to dump the franchise to someone - anyone - willing to take on the investment. It looked like the Maloof family (who were involved intimately with the 1997 Entry Draft and the unloading of veterans in cost-cutting moves) would buy into the team. That would fall apart, though, and the ownership would not be resolved until after the 1997-98 season.
With ownership troubled and Gratton a restricted free agent, it was an opportunity for another NHL team to try using an offer-sheet option to lure him away from Tampa.
Enter the Philadelphia Flyers. Add to it the blunderful fuzzy fax incident (which remains part of franchise folklore to this day) and a face-saving trade between the clubs (giving back the 5 first round draft choices that the Flyers paid as compensation for Gratton, in exchange for wing Mikael Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis) and you can see a vague similarity compared with the current situation.
The Predators situation isn't exactly the same, though. The Weber offer-sheet would represent the second time this off-season where a marquee player off their roster signed a megabucks deal with another club (Ryan Suter being the other). The player himself is older (being 27) and much more established as a star in the league than Gratton was. He is a true franchise player to the Preds in comparison to what Gratton was to the Lightning.
Weber was a runner-up for the Norris Trophy this season and is one of the more intimidating blue-liners in the league, with a devastatingly powerful shot to match. His move would have a much greater effect on the league than Gratton's departure from Tampa - opening up the Central division while stifling the Atlantic. The money, of course, is also far more than what was tossed around in 1997.
Nashville has seven days to decide what they will do on this - let Weber walk? Match the offer? Work out a deal with the Flyers that is mutually beneficial? Whatever they chose, the situation seems awfully familiar... And as a fan, it's familiarly awful.