In today's NHL, you don't win a championship without at least one incredibly talented defenseman. Since the lockout, nearly every Stanley Cup-winning team has been led from the blueline by one of the elites in the game.
The Los Angeles Kings had Drew Doughty in contention for playoff MVP. Last year it was the Boston Bruins' seven-footer, Zdeno Chara. Before that, Duncan Keith, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger all raised the greatest trophy in sports for their respective teams, every one of them a Norris Trophy (given annually to the league's best defenseman) winner.
Only the 2008/09 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2005/06 Carolina Hurricanes didn't follow this trend, and their respective opponents came to the Finals with Lidstrom and Pronger, respectively. But the NHL has gotten the message: get yourself a big, skilled defenseman, and ride him to a title.
That was the thinking behind Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren bringing Pronger to town on a multi-year deal in 2009. A once-in-a-generation talent at his position, the 6' 6" veteran brought the franchise within two games of a title in 2010, and was named team captain the following year.
Now Pronger suffers from post-concussion syndrome due to being struck in the head with a puck at the beginning of the 2011/12 season. His career may be over. And after a one-and-done playoff run this year, in which the Flyers played everything but defense in front of their $51 million goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, the club's front office went into the trade market looking to improve its back end this summer.
One thing that sets the Flyers franchise apart from nearly every other Philadelphia sports team is its unapologetic spending. When Terry Pegula, the new oil-baron owner of the Buffalo Sabres, promises his fans he'll buy his small-market team into the game, Flyers owner Ed Snider is already at the same table, tipping out the cocktail waitress with big-money chips.
And there's no better investment than a player like Shea Weber.
The soon-to-be-26-year-old goes about 6' 4", 234, has one of the hardest slapshots of any player in the game, and is an annual Norris Trophy finalist. In his 480-game NHL career, Weber has 99 goals and has been a dominating physical presence for the Nashville Predators. He's a leader in the locker room, the team captain, and won an Olympic gold medal on the same Team Canada squad that Pronger did.
And he clearly wants out of town after watching his defense partner, Ryan Suter, hit the bricks, signing a $98 million contract of his own in Minnesota.
For the Flyers, the move would give them the anchoring presence they enjoyed for only one season with Pronger in the package of a guy eight years his junior. No other free-agent acquisition they have made in the past ten years, not even the signing of Peter Forsberg, would be as significant as this to the club. Weber's $110 million offer sheet would lock him up in orange and black for the next 14 years. In the prime of his career. In Philadelphia.
If Nashville matches the offer, the Flyers get nothing but the chance to take their millions and try to find a way to work out deals for young guns Bobby Ryan or Rick Nash, two upper-echelon scoring forwards, to fill the hole left by the departure of Jaromir Jagr for Dallas.
Ryan and Nash would be welcome additions to any hockey club. Goal-scoring is always at a premium, and those two know how to pot 'em. But Weber is a game-changer who makes the team an instant, perennial contender for the next eight-to-10 years.
Flyers fans, you're less than a week away from knowing for sure whether you can officially celebrate.