- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Nashville Predators have matched the staggering offering sheet made by the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Shea Weber.

The Predators made sure on Tuesday they will keep their star defenseman when they decided to pay him $110 million over 14 years. Weber, 26, is the Predators‘ captain and played on a $7.5 million arbitrator’s award last season. He had 19 goals and 49 points along the way.

Nashville already lost free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter to Minnesota this summer, and losing Weber would have been an unexpected blow to a defense-first team that had 104 points last season.

The Flyers were looking for someone to fill the void left by Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger’s absence.


Weber hoped he would land in Philadelphia. Now, he will likely end his career in Nashville.

“In tendering an offer sheet to Shea Weber, we were trying to add a top defenseman entering the prime of his career,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “With Nashville matching our offer, we wish Shea and the Predators all the best.”

On behalf of Predators chairman Tom Cigarran, GM David Poile and CEO Jeff Cogen, the team released a statement that called the Weber signing, “the most important hockey transaction in franchise history.”

Weber is a three-time All Star who helped Canada win gold in the 2010 Olympics, and is also is the mainstay of the Predators‘ defensive-minded approach. He is coming off a season in which he turned in a career-best plus-21 rating. Weber was sixth among NHL defensemen in scoring, as well, last year.

He also had a career-high 22 points on the power play, and led all NHL defensemen with 10 power-play goals.

Weber averaged 29 minutes, 9 seconds of ice time last season, second on the team to his former partner, Suter, who signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with Minnesota on July 4.

The Predators said they wanted to send a message to their fans that they remain committed to fielding a Stanley Cup contender.

“It was absolutely essential that they understand and believe that we are doing everything possible to ice a Stanley Cup competing team each and every season,” the Predators said in a release.

It’s easily the biggest contract in Nashville history.

The Predators said they had the money to keep Weber and Suter after signing goalie Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million deal last November. But Poile couldn’t keep Suter in town despite team officials thinking they had a good chance to keep their top draft pick in 2003. The Wild not only snagged Suter, but also agreed with forward Zach Parise, Suter’s good friend who left New Jersey for a similar deal to Suter‘s, a month after leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals.

Nashville took Weber, the team’s fourth pick in the second round in that same 2003 draft, to arbitration a year ago and couldn’t take the restricted free agent there again this summer.

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