The results are in from the NHL's only arbitration case of the year, and it's pretty clear that Shea Weber won big.
The Nashville Predators captain has been awarded a $7.5-million, one-year deal for next season, a figure that is much closer to the $8.5-million one Weber's representatives submitted than the $4.75-million the team gave.
And it makes you wonder why the Preds didn't follow the New Jersey Devils lead and, like they did with Zach Parise, simply get a one-year deal done and keep negotiating.
Because there's just no way that short-term contract would be any higher than what Weber received in arbitration. (For those curious, the Preds are not entitled to walk away from this award because the team elected for the arbitration hearing.)
Few details were made available as to what went on in the hearing. What's clear, however, is that the arbitrator used the three biggest contracts signed by restricted free agent defencemen in recent history to come up with the award: Duncan Keith's 13-year deal that began last year, Brent Seabrook's five-year one that starts this fall and Dion Phaneuf's six-year one that started in 2006.
The arbitration process only allows for Weber's deal to be compared to others given to RFAs, so contracts like those of Brian Campbell and Zdeno Chara don't apply here. But Keith makes $8-million in the first three years of his deal, Seabrook makes $7-million in the first two and Phaneuf has two $7-million years and three $6.5-million years in his.
Given Weber's accomplishments, it's fair to put him closer to Keith's level, although comparing a heavily front-loaded 13-year deal to the one-year arbitration award is apples and oranges and one of the trickier elements these new mammoth RFA deals have introduced.
"The award is certainly reflective of his value to the Predators and his worth in the NHL," general manager David Poile said. "So congratulations to Shea."
In terms of a cap hit, Weber's is $1-million higher than any other RFA defenceman's contract and the highest of any defenceman in the league, putting him above almost every contract – UFA or RFA – signed by a blueliner under the new CBA.
The deal is also the largest arbitration award ever, surpassing the $7-million ones given to John Leclair in 2000 and Scott Niedermayer in 2004.
The more pressing questions for Nashville will of course centre around what this means for Weber and the team long term. The vast majority of players who go through the arbitration process don't stick with that organization for long, and the Preds have both Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter set to become UFAs next summer.
All three are going to require big, big money to stay, and if it's one thing Nashville's short on, it's that kind of cash. The smart money is on at least one of their stars leaving town, and right now, many believe it'll be Weber.
He'll be an RFA again next July 1, with the option of either signing an offer sheet, accepting his qualifying offer or going back to arbitration for another one-year deal. By 2013, barring a change in the collective bargaining agreement, Weber will become a UFA.