It’s the 2013 NHL Offseason. The Red Wings, originally planning to have Finnish center Valtteri Filppula be the team’s number two center for years to come, are not seeing eye-to-eye with the then 29-year old talent in contract talks. Eventually, it was clear he was not going to return as the dollar figures were not lining up. Filppula ended up in Tampa Bay, where he would be playing for GM Steve Yzerman and the Lightning. The Wings had a hole in their depth chart, and interestingly enough, went to the sunshine state to fetch their replacement. Enter long-time Florida Panther and franchise record holder Stephen Weiss.
Weiss landed in Hockeytown bringing a solid pedigree with him. He had Michigan connections from the start, playing three years in Plymouth with the OHL’s Whalers. He impressed, putting up 223 points in 172 regular season games from 1999-2002. This earned him a World Juniors trip as an 18-year old to the Czech Republic. In six games he had three goals and an assist. After World Juniors, Weiss got his first chance with the Panthers playing seven games in 2001-02. The following season, he saw his games played jump to 77 and as a 19-year old Weiss had six goals and 21 points. In 2003-04, he ran into a little injury trouble and played only 50 games but saw his point total rise to 29. After being assigned to the AHL during the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, Weiss looked to a fresh start in 05-06. Instead, he only played half the season due to injury and put up 21 points, the same as his rookie season. At age 23, the fresh start Weiss was looking for would begin in the 2006-07 season as he would average 75+ games played playing 80 games twice with 74 being his lowest in a span of six seasons. As one could imagine, as Weiss got healthier, his point production followed suit and increased. The Ontario native would top out at 61 points in 08-09 and would finish below 45 points once in the six season span. Discounting his injury riddled 2012-13 season, the Red Wings liked his pedigree enough and were determined to fill the hole in the depth chart to such a great extent that Weiss was signed to a five-year, $24.5 million contract. Playing with stars such as Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson, this seemed to be a great opportunity for a player who just turned 30. Little did the Wings know that it would be one of the shortest and disappointing first seasons for a free agent signing in team history.
Coming into training camp for the 2013-14 season, head coach Mike Babcock mentioned firsthand that he would have to compete hard or he would not like it in Hockeytown. Sure enough, the season rolls around and the two new free agent prizes were on the ice together on the second line. A few weeks later, they were victims of Detroit’s injury plague, with Daniel Alfredsson being the one to battle through and play for most of the year. Weiss was not so lucky. Through 26 games he had two goals and four points, and it was revealed that he was playing through a groin injury from the start of camp. It eventually was determined that Weiss needed core muscle surgery for a sports hernia and was targeting a Feburary return. That expectation fell through the cracks as well, as Weiss suffered multiple setbacks that put him out for the season. A new beginning soon turned into a nightmare for both the team and player. Expected to be the number two center, Weiss was anything but. Not all hope is gone however, at least from this writer’s perspective.
So, going into camp for the 2014-15 season, what is the outlook and expectations for Stephen Weiss? There is money to be paid and years to be played, and year two seems to be getting off to a solid start from a health perspective. GM Ken Holland confirmed that he received a text from Piet Van Zant (Wings trainer) that Weiss was skating, looked great and will be pain free headed into camp. Judging from last year’s pain right from the start, it’s good to hear that so far it is nonexistent for now. Coming off of core surgery with months of offseason time to heal and get back into shape, it is fair to expect a rebound from a healthy Weiss. This writer believes that if Weiss truly is and stays healthy, he will contribute a great deal to the Wings in that second line role and will provide some solid depth scoring. In fact, if the whole team can avoid most of the major injury plague sustained last season, the success rate will jump tenfold. However, this healthy outlook begins with Weiss. Fused in with current stars such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk along with the young talent of tomorrow, the healthy Stephen Weiss that the Wings saw all those seasons playing on the opposing side could wind up being one of their greatest assets in a rebound season for not only Weiss but the team itself.
Proud Member and supporter of the DSBA.
Stephen Weiss bio and stats courtesy of Hockey Reference