Handle With Care. He's Soft.

I’m pretty confident that not everyone is going to agree with the thoughts and comments I’m going to make in this post, but so be it.  I’m willing to take my lumps and know that I’m right and you’re not.

The NHL 2001 entry draft found the Florida Panthers selecting centreman Stephen Weiss with the number four overall pick.  Often referred to by this writer as “The Little Weasel” or “Little Stevie” or by some of my readers as Stevie Wonder, he is not a favourite of mine.  Other players taken after Weiss in that years draft were, Mikko Koivu at 6th, Mike Komisarek at 7th, Dan Hamhuis at 12th, and Ales Hemsky at 13th.  Would any of these players have had more of an impact with the Panthers?  Who knows, all I know is that Stevie has not lived up to his potential.  Again, in my humble opinion.

He also could have been rushed into duty too soon.  He’s has had some pretty high expectations put on himself, that are no fault of his own, but someway somehow, others think and feel he’s “that good”.  Remember Rob Niedermayer?  Drafted in the first round by Florida with a ton of expectations put on him that never really panned out.  He was eventually booed out of town, and ultimately became a reliable checking forward.

When Weiss was drafted in 2001 he spent a good portion of the 2001-2002 season in the OHL with Portland.  Compiling 70 points that included 25 goals in 46 games.  Pretty impressive stuff right?  However, the Panthers were giving pressure to then head coach Mike Keenan (something you don’t do), to play him.  Keenan somehow obliged and after a contest or two told management that Weiss wasn’t ready for NHL duty yet.  Rick Dudley the Panthers GM finally agreed and Weiss was sent back for more seasoning. The team wasn’t going anywhere and there was no need to rush this kid.  Finally in 2002-2003 season Weiss was here for good as the Panthers really didn’t have much choice but to play him as the second line centre behind Olli Jokinen.

Then the frailty began to show up and has seemingly plagued Stevie since.  Now mind you his only major injury was in March of 2004 when he broke his leg and he missed the remainder of the season playing only 50 games.  Since then he has had an assortment of “minor” cuts, bruises, and scrapes that have caused him to miss action here and there.

He sprained his knee on a couple of occasions.  He’s had wrist injuries a few times.  He’s had some shoulder injuries, and he catches the flu a lot.  Enough for him to have missed games.  He had a broken pinky finger which put him out of action for some time causing him to have trouble gripping his stick.  He’s had a groin problem like so many players do, but if you’re in shape, I guess you never have that problem, unless you’re much older.  And finally his two most recent urgent care center visits have caused him to be out of action again.  First he took a puck to the face and it knocked out a tooth and loosened some others.  This caused him to play his next game with a full face shield.  He then tweaked his ankle in practice last Friday when the Panthers played soccer instead of having an on ice workout.

Whew!  That’s a lot of stuff for your number one guy isn’t it?  Now some of you might be thinking that I’m picking on him.  Fair statement.  But I’m not.  The reality is Weiss is not number one centre material.  Since Olli has been traded, the Panthers management has been forcing that issue and wrongfully so.  Everyone keeps waiting for the breakout year, and is counting on him to be the points leader, when it’s just too much.  Also, he’s cursed himself by wearing number 9.  Think about the players in the NHL that have worn number nine.

Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Mike Modano.  Heck even Dale Tallon wore number 9!  Personally I don’t think that Stevie should have chosen that as his number.  More like 14 or 17 so that he’s not so obvious.

As far as his injuries?  Well his latest tooth incident makes me think of Chicago’s Duncan Keith who in last years playoffs lost seven teeth on one shot.  Keith went to the dressing room, got stitched up, and only missed one or two shifts and continued to play the rest of the playoffs without missing a beat.  I know it was the playoffs, but honestly the Panthers haven’t seen them for nine seasons, and I would think that unless you’re dying, you should be playing.  So I suppose what I’m questioning is his durability and determination.

Another player I’ll refer to and is also a former Chicago Blackhawk, who also played for Phoenix, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Jose is Jeremy Roenick.  Roenick has lost teeth in games, been concused about 7-8 times, broke his jaw, torn his knees, yet always came back sooner than everyone expected.  In addition he played the game with grit and sandpaper as well as skill.

Brett Farve, probably against better judgement,  played a football game Sunday with a broken bone in his ankle.  At 41 years old.  What does he have to prove?  Andrew Ladd played in the Stanley Cup final with a fractured shoulder. Marion Hossa played with a leg injury almost the entire playoffs.

Weiss avoids contact, doesn’t hustle at times, can’t seem to stay on the ice for more than 30 seconds without getting the wind knocked out of him, and is lazy on line changes.  How do I know?  I watch him.  Closely.

While the Florida Panthers management insists on giving him top minutes, my new found name for any line he’s on is the Two and a half men line. He’s on the ice practicing today with a non-contact jersey.  For god sakes he’s got a sore ankle and a missing tooth! It’s not like he’s coming back from a head injury!

Now I’ve never played the game of hockey so I can’t possibly know what these guys go through and maybe my viewpoints are a little off.  All I’m saying is that the slow start to the season is compounded by these minor ailments.  And when I look at what other players do or have done to continue playing, I firmly question the situation.  As a fan, I have that right.  His slow start and defensive giveaways cannot go unnoticed.  Coming off what many feel was a big year for him, it actually should have been bigger.  He went 17 games last season without an even strength goal.  We can’t afford that, nor can he.

As of right now he’s on pace for 30 points.  He’ll most likely end up with more, but unless he somehow gets 75-80, it’s not going to be enough.  That’s at least the kind of production you want from your top line centre.  Anything less is just not acceptable.

So today’s rant is summed up by me saying that I expect more from Weiss, a player that has been in the NHL for nine seasons.  I’m not very forgiving and am not sorry to say that his career has been average.  Could he be better?  Maybe.  Is it the supporting cast around him?  Probably not.  Similar to Rob Niedermayer’s situation, I think the expectations were too high and by not living up to them, some of us are frustrated with the end result.

A 60 point a year player, and that’s that.

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Tags: Dale Tallon Florida Panthers Handle With Care Little Stevie Stephen Weiss The Little Weasel

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