Thursday, July 19, 2012

Weber, Giroux, the Flyers, and Stanley Cup-shaped Sugar Plums

I woke up this morning to about six text messages. One was from my mom. The rest all had to do with Shea Weber.


By now, if you're reading this post, you know all about the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that Weber signed with the Flyers last night. I don't want to re-hash the analysis that every single other hockey outlet has provided over the past 12 hours, so let me bullet-point a couple of links that will allow you to apprise yourself of the situation before I launch into a couple of original thoughts:

  • Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos broke the terms of the contract, which is salary-light and signing bonus-heavy. That protects most of the money from potential salary rollbacks in the new collective bargaining agreement.
  • It also means that Nashville, if they matched the Flyers' offer at some time in the seven-day window they have to decide, would owe Weber $27 million within the first calendar year (two signing bonus installments of $13 million each, plus $1 million in salary). That could be a tough number to reach for a team that Forbes valued at $163 million in 2011.
  • For what it's worth, Nashville GM David Poile released a statement that leaves the team with the option of going in either direction. The Predators have previously indicated they plan to match any offer sheet for Weber.
  • Though the contract carries Weber into his 40th birthday, the boys at Broad Street Hockey show why the deal's length shouldn't be a burden on the team.
  • If the Predators don't match, the Flyers would owe Nashville four first-round picks as compensation.
  • Bill Meltzer thinks the most likely scenario is for Nashville and the Flyers to agree on a trade for Weber that would send the Predators some players and picks in return for very little. Nashville would then match the offer sheet and deal Weber to the Flyers for peanuts, thereby ensuring the Flyers keep a few of their first-rounders and also allowing the Predators to receive some NHL-caliber players in return.
So, yeah, it's an exciting time to be a Flyers fan. There are a couple of things that need to be said here.

First of all, every Flyers fan in the city should be sending a thank-you note to Ed Snider today. There are few owners in sports, let alone in the NHL, with the financial heft to make any move necessary, the intense desire to win that's required to spend that kind of money, and the good sense to generally let the operations department have the final say on personnel moves. Snider has all of those qualities (the Bryzgalov signing notwithstanding), and that's a big reason why the Flyers are constantly among the league's best teams and are always in a position to try to improve their roster.

So, Ed Snider, thank you for being as dedicated an owner as any fan could possibly ask for.

Second, Weber has been a Norris Trophy finalist in each of the past two seasons. Pairing him with Claude Giroux would give the Flyers, arguably, one of the top three defensemen and one of the top three forwards in the league.

The list of teams that have featured Norris Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy winners in the same season actually isn't as short as you might think. Chris Pronger won both awards with the Blues in 2000. The 1991-92 New York Rangers featured Hart winner Mark Messier and Norris winner Brian Leetch. Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey pulled off the feat in back-to-back seasons with the Oilers in 1984-85 and 1985-86. Brian Trottier and Denis Potvin won both awards with the Islanders in 1978-79, and Guy LaFleur and Larry Robinson did so with the Canadiens in 1976-77.

Perhaps the greatest duo in NHL history, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, accomplished the feat twice with the Bruins, in 1968-69 and 1973-74, and Orr won both awards in the same year three times, in 1970, 1971, and 1972.

Bobby Hull and Pierre Pilote took home both trophies for the Blackhawks in 1964-65, Bernie Geoffrion and Doug Harvey did so for the Canadiens in 1960-61, and Jean Beliveau did the same with Harvey in 1955-56.

So in the 58 seasons in which both trophies have been awarded, both have gone to the same team 14 times. The 1985 Oilers, 1977 Canadiens, 1970 and 1972 Bruins, and 1956 Canadiens also won the Stanley Cup.

Leetch and Messier won with the Rangers in 1993, Trottier and Potvin won four straight Cups with the Islanders in the early 80's, and Hull and Pilote won with the Blackhawks in 1961. And, of course, Geoffrion was on several of the same Beliveau/Harvey Cup-winning Canadiens teams in the late 1960s.

To summarize, of all the players listed above, only Chris Pronger failed to win at least one Stanley Cup with the team with which he won his major award. Every other dynamic duo managed to win at least one title with the team with which they won the Norris and/or Hart trophies.

Now, it's no guarantee that Weber will end up a Flyer. Nashville could simply match the offer sheet and we'd be exactly where we were 48 hours ago, except there would be no prospect of signing Weber as a free agent after next season. Even if Weber does come to Philadelphia, the trade that Bill Meltzer described could significantly weaken the team in other areas.

That said, the history on this one is pretty compelling. Maybe you didn't need a long-form historical analysis to tell you that when superstar forwards get paired with superstar defensemen, great things happen. But with the prospect of a Claude Giroux-Shea Weber union staring us in the face, it's an exciting little trend to consider.

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