Nashville's free-agency problem

Can the Predators afford to keep Shea Weber? Or rather, can they afford to lose him? Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Nashville Predators like to brand themselves as an organization without a superstar.

A small-market team based in a non-traditional market, the Predators appeal to their fan base as a faceless group that takes on the personality of its coach, Barry Trotz, and general manager, David Poile.

Recently, there has been a shift in this thinking -- a change caused by a defenseman from Western Canada. Shea Weber is the Predators' first homegrown superstar talent. He's a gold medalist, an All-Star, the team's captain and a Norris Trophy finalist. But he's also a restricted free agent.

Some consider him the best young defenseman in the NHL. But how important is Weber to Nashville? Is he replaceable? And would re-signing him for just one season set up a free-agency Armageddon in 2012 when Nashville's two other top players -- Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne -- will be unrestricted free agents?

When Weber was a child growing up in Sicamous, British Columbia, his favorite player was Rob Blake of the Los Angeles Kings. Strangely, Weber has grown up to be similar to Blake.

Weber, 25, stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 234 pounds. Blake was slightly smaller at 6-4, 227. Both played a rugged power game that based itself, offensively, on a big shot. Weber blasted the puck at 104.8 mph in last season's All-Star skills competition.

"His shot is ridiculous," a Western Conference scout said. "I feel for anybody who has to get in front of it and try to block it."

The scout said Weber is not the type of player who will rush the puck from end to end. But he can find ways to get into shooting position from the point. This is how he scored a large portion of his 16 goals last year.

"If it's five-on-five or on the power play, you have to be aware of where he is. On the power play you're going to try to force who has the puck to go somewhere else," the scout said. "As you prove to the league and what kind of player you are, you bring more and more attention to yourself and you have to find a way either to get open or get your shot through or whatever it may be. That was a challenge he had to face this year, but he obviously did a good job at it."