Stephen Weiss wants a rewrite.
The season is over for the Panthers center. His stay in Florida may be too. For someone who’s spent all 11 years of his career with the same NHL club, serving as the face of the team, that possibility is not the ending he was hoping for.
“It’s definitely not the way I would have written it,” Weiss admits. “It kind of burns at me that this is the way I could be going out.”
Weiss opted for season-ending wrist surgery on Tuesday in Cleveland. That will be followed up by a three-month recovery period. He’s been placed on injured reserve by the team. He’ll be 30 next month and is in the final year of a six-year, $18.6 million contract. Throw in the fact that this is his third wrist surgery and the Panthers are in the midst of a youth movement, and Weiss’s future becomes uncertain.
“It would be awesome to finish my career here,” Weiss said earlier this week by phone. “I’ve been here a long time and you don’t see that too often nowadays. But first of all, they have to want me back. I’m going to look at all the options and decide what I feel is best for me moving forward.”
The Panthers haven’t discussed their options with Weiss just yet. General Manager Dale Tallon says he will wait until Weiss is healthy before they make any decisions. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The veteran top-line center has been with the Panthers since being drafted fourth overall in 2001. He spent nine of those seasons in a postseason drought until the Cats finally broke through last year, winning the Southeast Division.
“If it is the last game, it’s the last game and I hope everyone understands why I made this decision. It’s been a good ride,” he said.
Weiss made the decision for surgery because he couldn’t play through the pain anymore. He says he’s been playing at 50 or 60 percent this season and the health of his right wrist was getting worse.
“My mobility and the pain and just what I’m able to do is so far below what I’m capable of that I just can’t play this way anymore,” Weiss says. “There’s only so much you can do. I’ve learned now if you’re not able to shoot the puck and have the type of stick speed and strength that you want, you can’t fake your way through this league. It’s just too good.”
Weiss had this same wrist surgically repaired in 2009. He also had surgery to repair a tendon tear in his left wrist in 2006. He says the pain kept getting worse starting during the lockout, when he was practicing without properly taping his wrists.
His health was clearly affecting his play. Weiss, who is the franchise leader in assists and fourth in team history in goals, had just 4 points in 17 games this season. He carries a minus-13 rating, third-worst in the league.
“I didn’t want to rush into another surgery unless I absolutely had to. I believe this is kind of my last resort here to get this thing done and get healthy 100 percent, which I haven’t been for a little bit,” Weiss says.
“It’s been weighing on my mind for at least a year or so. I decided to try and play as long as I could, but as this season went on, it just became quite evident that I couldn’t play properly to be effective and help the team win games. It doesn’t make sense to keep going on this way.”
Nobody has played more games in a Panthers uniform. Weiss has worn the “A” on his jersey for years as the team’s designated alternate captain and was in heavy consideration for the captaincy honor in the offseason. Head Coach Kevin Dineen chose veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski instead.
Now Weiss swallows the bitter pill of sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference with his season prematurely ended, and maybe his residency in Sunrise.
“It’s annoying for sure,” Weiss says. “When you’re mentally wanting to do things that you can’t do, it starts to eat at you. When you hurt the team it’s time to make a decision. It just so happens that it’s the last year of my deal. That’s the crappy part for sure.”