Friday, July 20, 2012

The Hippodrome: The Shea of Reckoning

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 8:02 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: Weber's watershed, patella problems, nautical nonsense, Brandt in Britain and something so absurd it also makes sense.

Philadelphia Freedom was Elton Johns worst single by far
  • "Philadelphia Freedom" was Elton John's worst single by far

Opening Face-Off

Poile vs Holmgren : Minutes before midnight Thursday, TSN's Darren Dreger broke the news that the Philadelphia Flyers had agreed to an offer sheet with superstar defenseman Shea Weber: a deal worth $110 million over 14 years, heavily front-loaded with signing bonuses.

Per the NHL's CBA, the Predators have seven days to match the deal — and if they do so, they lock up the face (and beard) of the franchise until he's 40. If they don't match, Weber becomes a Flyer and Nashville gets Philly's next four first-round draft picks — a pittance: given the Flyer's relative success, those picks will be in the late first round, hardly a garden of guarantees.

There is no overstating the importance here. The Predators have an opportunity to ink their captain to what is a fairly reasonable deal for the rest of his career. If he walks, they've sent a dangerous message to their fans.

Having already lost Ryan Suter, there are real concerns from fans about the actual commitment the owners have to paying what must be paid to compete for a Stanley Cup.

If they fail to match the deal, the owners will have to admit that purported commitment was nothing more than lip service, that they didn't really have the financial wherewithal — or, at the least, the willingness — to pay for top talent.

At the least, there's a concern about why top players don't want to stay in Nashville.

Dreger told 97.3 FM in Philadelphia that Weber doesn't want to be here and that the Predators and Flyers were trying to work out a deal to trade Weber and finally Philly got fed up and submitted the offer sheet. Weber's agent told Canadian radio that Weber "greatly preferred" the Flyers but he'd be a pro and play in Nashville if the Predators matched. He also alluded to some kind of "rebuild," which said agent has unilaterally declared underway at Fifth & Broad.

There are those who believe that Weber's agent is making the statements out of his own self-interest rather than as a representation of Weber.

So what's next? The Predators could match the sheet and immediately have hockey's most valuable asset as trade bait — except under the rules as they exist, Weber can't be traded for a year. And, certainly, if they wanted to be gangsta (as the kids say), they could trade Weber to the least desirable destination imaginable (Columbus calling?).

Also, here's a bold plan that no one seems to be actually taking seriously: They could spend some money, surround him with talent and keep him here for 14 years.

They could refuse to match and take Philly's next four No. 1 draft picks in return. There are whispers that Poile and Holmgren may have some kind of gentleman's agreement wherein Poile trades those picks back to Philly for some kind of package of players and prospects which would have been part of a trade, but certainly Holmgren is under no obligation to take such a deal.

The next week will tell the tale.

The Week Behind

Kinda like that
  • Kinda like that

The Ballad of Kenny's Knee: When the Titans drafted wide receiver Kendell Wright, I suggested "maybe [Kenny] Britt isn't progressing from his injury with the speed the team hoped?"

And it looks like that speculation about the Titans top wide receiver may have been correct. Britt had yet another knee surgery, this time on his left knee.

Britt has all the talent in the world and seems to have put away the childish things which plagued the early off-seasons of his career. But now there are serious questions about the integrity of his knees.

With his latest scope, Titans fans must ask if Britt will be ready for the early — and tough — part of the 2012 season. Signs point to no. And without their biggest down-field threat, how much will the field open up for an allegedly rejuvenated Chris Johnson?

Knees are funny things, as all tall folk know. They tear and twist and fall apart and can go from 100 percent to 70 percent in no time flat, especially if a thunderstorm is rumbling into Dickson at 4:21, Charlotte at 4:24 and Scottsboro at 4:48.

But NFL injury reports are just as unpredictable, as David Boclair explores in this week's City Paper. Reticent to give too much away, NFL teams are happy to let people divine the true nature of their players' boo-boos in other, less direct ways. Like explanations of seemingly inexplicable draft picks.

Test Balloon: James Franklin's commitment to spreading the gospel of Vanderbilt football has taken him to some weird places and had him do some weird things.

Like blowing up balloons at a child's birthday party.

At the annual gushfest and bromide bazaar that is SEC Media Days, Franklin talked about leading Vanderbilt into the promised land of SEC relevance, selling the idea that 2011's 6-7 was no "one-year wonder." He even uttered the phrase "same old Vandy."

Franklin's appearance, which actually garnered some attention, is a far cry from past pronouncements of Commodore coaches in Birmingham, which only get traction when the coach is an aw-shucks good ol' boy talking about turkey semen.

Franklin even bragged on Vandy's schedule. He pronounced the 'Dores' out-of-conference slate the toughest in the SEC, with road trips to two BCS schools (failing to mention that those road trips are to Northwestern and Wake Forest; Florida goes to Florida State this year, both South Carolina and Auburn play Clemson).

As always, to be a success, Vandy has to get the bounces and minimize the destruction when those bounces go the other way. The Black and Gold certainly could win all four non-conference tilts (in addition to the aforementioned BCS powerhouses, they play Presbyterian and UMass). They should beat Ole Miss and Kentucky. That's six wins as it is without considering their chances against a down UT, a down Florida, a down Auburn and a Missouri team getting its SEC baptism by fire.

But those bounces that go Vandy's way in good years could just as easily roll the other way.

Garbage Time : Pro Football Talk put the Titans at No. 20 in its pre-season power rankings. The folks at Music City Miracle take umbrage. ... John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor are off to crackin' starts in the NBA summer league. ... Nashville's Blake Geoffrion re-upped with the Montreal Canadiens. ... The Byzantine six-classes-from-three playoff system for the TSSAA will continue so every high-school kid with a pulse will win a state football title before graduation. ... And former Vandy women's hoops coach Jim Foster gets the call to the hall.

Halftime Entertainment

Whoops
  • Whoops

Mired In Muck : This week in The City Paper, I obsess about the metaphorical shipwreck that is the increasingly ubiquitous Vanderbilt rallying cry "Anchor down."

The social media reaction from overly earnest Vanderbilt fans was, well, a little negative. Both my intelligence and seaworthiness were called into question, the tweeters not knowing that I was a qualified surface-warfare specialist in your United States Navy and I do have some intimate knowledge as to what happens when, in fact, an anchor goes down.

An e-mailer asked if perhaps the metaphor was intended to evoke an image of a ship hunkering in for battle, dropping anchor to take on all comers from all sides. Now, I was just a lowly sonar technician (third class) and did not attend the Naval War College, but I don't think I'm taking too big a leap of faith by suggesting that anchoring during battle is a supremely bad idea. Indeed, during the Battle of Beachy Head during the Nine Years War, English admiral, the Earl of Torrington dropped anchor mid-fight and was subsequently court-martialed.

Green Team : PETA declared Greer Stadium — which doesn't exactly evoke the image of a progressive bastion of goodliness — one of the 10 most vegetarian-friendly ballparks. Meanwhile, Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon, who spends the off-season as a sustainability-conscious farmer (of course), will address Congress on the use of antibiotics in livestock.

Big Talk : All three of 104.5 The Zone's locally generated shows landed on the Talker magazine Heavy Hundred of sports talk. Perhaps surprisingly, it was the Wake-Up Zone which had the highest position (No. 68) and not 3HL, which came in at 75. The relatively new Midday 180 — perhaps on the strength of its very cool Who's The Man series — landed at No. 90 just months after its debut.

The Week Ahead

Not those links, Brandt
  • Not those links, Brandt

Brandt In Britain: Kudos to Nashville's own Brandt Snedeker, who posted a nice number in his opening round at Royal Lytham St Anne's School for Girls, Pawn Shop, Tanning Salon and Owlery: a cool 4-under 66.

Snedeker is the typical nearly-man in seemingly every Major. Just low enough to score, maybe sneak on to the first page of the leaderboard so you notice him while you try to figure out what this is next to Graeme McDowell's name.

But he's shown he has the talent to put together nice rounds on big stages, which makes his repeated absence from Ryder Cup teams totally baffling.

The British Open is often the toughest of the majors to figure out because the courses are so wacky and the British summer wreaks such random havoc, the nature of the course changing from easy to mind-numblingly hard with one shift of wind — a guy going off at 11:01 may play a totally different course from someone who starts 45 minutes later.

So often, it's just a matter of doing the best you can with what your dealt and hoping for a few good breaks. Here's to hoping, Brandt.

Worthless Prediction: Look for a solid top 10 finish from Sneds. Just don't see a win this weekend.

Overtime

oliver-twist-gruel530.jpg

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Notwithstanding what happens with Shea Weber, the local owners of the Nashville Predators have already broken one promise this year.

Nashville was not a salary cap team at the end of last season, despite repeated pronouncements they would be.

In fact, the Predators finished 2011-12 with a payroll of $52.2 million, some $12 million under the NHL's salary cap. Granted, there are a number of reasons why: the unexpected emergence of young (and cheap) players, the lack of availability for big contract outsiders, the unwillingness of Weber and Ryan Suter to sign long-term deals.

But nonetheless, it was a promise broken.

Unless the team goes into full-on rebuild, it's likely David Poile or ownership group face-man Tom Cigarran will issue a similar promise this year.

Fans buy season tickets on expectation. There's no way of knowing in July what the team will look like (or how much it will cost) in April, so all they've got to go on are the promises.

And when those promises aren't kept there's little recourse.

Sports teams in general ask a lot (and for a lot) from their fans. In the case of the Predators and a number of other teams, they ask a lot of taxpayers in general.

And if the leadership of the franchise is blowing smoke up the fans' collective behinds, it's time to call them on it and have them put their money where their mouth is (to mix anatomical cliches somewhat).

Fans pay for tickets — interest-free loans — with the expectation that money will go to improve the team. If the team doesn't improve, the fans should be able to call those loans.

If the team doesn't meet expectations, the fans should get restitution. Real restitution.

Here's a proposal that will never, ever happen (but would be cool anyway).

At the beginning of the season, the team should set a reasonable performance goal — at the least, this should be "be better than last season." And if the team ownership makes a promise like "We'll spend to the cap," they should do it or they should pay.

NHL teams generate roughly half their revenue from ticket sales. Let's say the Predators have 10,000 season-ticket equivalencies. That means for every million dollars in payroll, each season ticket contributes $50.

If the team doesn't meet expectations and doesn't spend to the cap (or within, say, 5 percent of it; I'm a generous guy), they should pay the fans back. Now, I'm no communist, so if the team is above the midpoint, I'll let them keep half a share ($25 per million). But below the midpoint when you promised a cap team? Unacceptable. You pay back the whole $50 per each million you fell short.

What's this mean in practice? Last year's salary cap was $64.3 million. It's $8 million down to the midpoint — that's $200 ($25x8). And that $4 million or so you were short the midpoint? That's another $200.

Terms and conditions apply of course. Had the Predators made the Western Conference Final? They showed improvement. Keep the cash. Had they spent big but still fallen short? They could keep the cash — the budget wasn't the problem.

If you aren't going to go to the cap — be honest. Frankly, no one believes the Predators are ever going to be a cap team anyway. Don't sell fans a bill of goods.

And if you do make that promise: Do something really bold (and totally absurd) and pay the fans back if you don't.

Any other wackjob ideas you'd like me to explore? Hit me at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And my radio hour is shifting with the return of George Plaster. I'll join the rebranded Sports Night from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays on 102.5 The Game going forward.

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