The “Gratton Agreement”: Another Weber Scenario


In the piece I initially wrote about the Flyers’ offer sheet with Shea Weber, I said that there were only two ways this could play out: Nashville matches and retain Weber’s services for the next 14 years, or they don’t match and the Flyers get Weber, sending their next 4 1st round picks to Nashville in return. However, there is one more scenario that could take place. The  two teams could enter into a “Gratton Agreement”, named after former Flyer Chris Gratton. In 1997, the Flyers signed Gratton, then with the Tampa Bay Lighting, to a 5-year, $16.5M offer sheet. The Lightning couldn’t afford to match it, but they wanted different compensation for Gratton than the 4 1st round picks. So they agreed not to match the offer sheet, sending Gratton to the Flyers for the 4 1st round picks. They then immediately traded the 4 1st rounders back to Philadelphia in exchange for Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis. If Nashville can’t afford to match Weber’s offer sheet, this would be the better route for them than the 4 1st rounders because they need NHL players in return to help them reach the cap floor. So who could move from Philadelphia to Nashville as part of a potential Gratton agreement?

The first two names that jump to mind are RW Jakub Voracek and D Andrej Meszaros. Voracek is a restricted free agent himself, and reports are that him and the Flyers are far apart in negotiations (though, to be fair, that probably has something to do with the fact that the Flyers’ cap situation is tied up with Weber’s offer sheet). Voracek is coming off an 18 goal, 49 point season that was one of the best of his young career. Combined with his strong postseason (10 points in 11 games, including an OT winner in Game 1 against the Penguins) and the fact that Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk are no longer on the team, Voracek was seen as a definite top-6 forward who might fill his fellow countryman Jagr’s spot on the top line with Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. However, recent developments suggest that Voracek’s days in Philadelphia might be numbered, since Nashville desperately needs top-6 forwards and they can offer Voracek a raise from his salary last year on a long-term deal (think 4 years, $14M) due to their need to reach the cap floor. Meszaros is coming off a disappointing, injury-filled season last year, but he’s only 26 and won the Barry Ashbee trophy as the Flyers’ top defenseman in 2010. He could fill in somewhere in the top-4 on defense for Nashville, and he’s making $4M next season. Since that probably wouldn’t be enough for Nashville, the Flyers could offer them the choice of Marc-Andre Bourdon (who is also a RFA) or Erik Gustafsson. Bourdon has more potential and a higher ceiling, but he’s injury-prone, including some concussion issues last year and he’s still unsigned as a RFA, while Gustafsson is a solid puck-mover locked up at $900k for the next 3 seasons. Perhaps Andreas Lilja, who has become redundant with the addition of Bruno Gervais as a 6th/7th defenseman, could be included in the deal to get his $737k cap hit off the Flyers’ books (every dollar counts!) and help Nashville get to the cap floor.

If the deal for Weber ended up looking something like Weber to Philly for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 1st rounders, then Voracek, Meszaros, Gustafsson, and Lilja to Nashville for 2014, 2015, and 2016 1st rounders, the Predators would actually be closer to the cap floor for next season (Vorack at roughly $3-3.5M, Meszaros at $4M, Bourdon at roughly $800k-1M, and Lilja at $737k) than if they kept Weber, because the incoming salaries would add up to somewhere between $8.5 and $9.2M against the cap for next year while Weber is set to make about $7.8M on the cap. The Predators would also be adding multiple players and depth to their team rather than tying up all that money in one player. I know it wouldn’t be an ideal situation for the Predators since Weber is worth more than what they’d be getting in return for them, but it’s better than the alternatives: letting Weber walk for 4 1st rounders and potentially alienating their fan base or matching the offer sheet and crippling the franchise financially for the future.

And one other thing: a Gratton agreement would likely give the Flyers enough cap space, assuming Chris Pronger is put on LTIR, to pursue Coyotes winger Shane Doan in free agency. And if there is no Gratton agreement, the Flyers would likely have enough assets (Meszaros, Matt Read, and a 2nd rounder?) to pursue a trade for Anaheim RW Bobby Ryan.

Of course, this Gratton agreement could all be purely baseless speculation, as Nashville’s owners might green-light GM David Poile to match the offer sheet or tell him that they don’t have the funds to match it. If Poile tells Flyers GM Paul Holmgren he won’t match and proposes a Gratton agreement, Homer might call his bluff since he probably believes that Nashville doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to pay Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne $129M over the next 6 years. And he might be right. We’ll have to wait and see. Nashville could take this thing all the way up until the 11:30 PM EST deadline on Wednesday night.