SUNRISE, Fla. — Few could pinpoint the reason behind Stephen Weiss poor season.
Was is a personal slump? The pressure of having to exceed expectations in a contract year? Disappointment over not being named team captain? Personal issues away from the rink?
The answer became painfully clear Tuesday when Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon announced the franchise’s longest tenured player would miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury.
Weiss will undergo surgery next week and be out for an estimated 10-12 weeks.
“He couldn’t perform up to his capabilities in his opinion and he wanted to get it fixed,” Tallon said. “It was difficult for him and all of us. Stephen cares and he feels badly about it. This is a big year for him as well.”
Panthers brass and teammates suggested Weiss has played with the injury throughout the season.
“We knew from the beginning of the year that he always had that problem,” teammate Tomas Kopecky said. “To see him the past couple weeks, it was a pure struggle, a pure battle, not only games but in practices. It was nice to see him try to go through it, it if you can’t, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Florida’s leader in games played, Weiss had one goal, three assists and a minus-13 rating in 17 contests.
In hindsight, the signs were there away from the scoresheet.
Weiss, who over the course of his career averages two shots a game, was producing half that. There were the odd occasions during games where Weiss, adept in the faceoff circle, would be lined up on the wing while centers Jerred Smithson, Marcel Goc or Drew Shore would take the draw, then return to the bench to be replaced by a winger.
Additionally, Weiss’ power play ice time dropped by an average of 49 seconds compared to last season.
“If he’s not able to shoot on the power play, it renders him ineffective,” Coach Kevin Dineen said. “We saw a different player in the past. It obviously affected his game. It’s obviously a loss for us.”
The question that remains is whether Weiss has played his last game with the Panthers. He is due to become an unrestricted free agent in July.
If history is any indication, there is a chance the pivot may return to the team that drafted him in 2001, even if for a short period of time.
Weiss tore a wrist ligament in 2006 — the same one believed to be the cause of this injury — and missed the final 41 games of the season of a contract year. The center re-signed with the Panthers for one year and followed with his best season to that point, recording career highs in goals (20), assists (28) and points (48). He cashed in the following summer, inking a six-year, $18.6 million deal.
The only difference, however, is that Weiss can now test the free agent market which tends to benefit players’ salaries. Weiss has not commented on his future amdist rumors other than reminding reporters his current contract includes a no-movement clause.
But that matters little now as the injury keeps him from being moved.
Tallon suggested in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company earlier this season he would like to re-sign Weiss. Right now, the general manager is more concerned about Weiss the person over Weiss the player.
“We’ll get into that later,” Tallon said when asked about Weiss’ future in Florida. “Let’s get him healthy first.”
Injuries decimate Panthers
Weiss may have been the bombshell announcement Tuesday, but it came amidst a lengthy list of infirmed Cats. As Tallon explained, Florida has lost its starting goaltender, three of the team’s top four defensemen and four of its top nine forwards.
Jose Theodore will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. Dmitry Kulikov is out 3-4 weeks with an upper body injury. Mike Weaver, out with a lower body injury, will miss 4-5 weeks. Oft-injured Scottie Upshall is on the mend again, out for the next seven to 10 days at a minimum. Ed Jovanovski will miss another week to 10 days, perhaps another two weeks with a knee injury. And then, there’s Weiss.
On the positive side, Florida hopes to get Kris Versteeg back in the lineup, hopefully by Friday.