As the Detroit Red Wings prepare to thaw themselves out from the freeze brought on by the Winter Olympic Games, the stark reality of their current situation is once again coming to the forefront.
The Red Wings will enter action Wednesday in Montreal clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and will look to continue their season without their captain and leading offensive player, Henrik Zetterberg.
As there is no one—including any player available via trade—that can step up to fill Zetterberg’s role, the Detroit Red Wings’ only hope of making the playoffs requires other players to collectively contribute more than they have to-date.
One of those players is Stephen Weiss.
Unfortunately, the name “Stephen Weiss” has become a punch-line in Detroit, and with good reason.
Though Daniel Alfredsson’s arrival in the Motor City stole most of the headlines in July, Weiss’ five-year contract at an annual salary of $4.9 million represented the Red Wings’ largest investment in free-agent talent since they signed defenseman Brian Rafalski in 2007.
Weiss was acquired to give Detroit a legitimate second-line center, one who could provide regular offense and still be counted on to play a sound two-way game. Weiss had, theretofore, built his entire NHL career in Florida on just these assets, so the expectations were hardly wild.
In 26 games as a Red Wing, Weiss has two goals, two assists and a minus-four rating—honestly, that makes his season look better than it’s actually been.
When Weiss went down with a groin injury in mid-December, his absence was far more a blessing than a curse, certainly for the team, but quite possibly for the man as well.
Weiss was diagnosed with a sports hernia and promptly went under the knife to correct the issue. This has kept Weiss off the ice since Dec. 10, providing a nearly three-month respite from NHL hockey.
Respite seems the apt term in this case because, for all his time in Detroit, Weiss never seemed comfortable in his own skin. Weiss became so ineffectual, his contract looked worse and worse as the season wore on, representing a $24.5 million set of handcuffs for the team. However, it is very possible that Weiss began viewing the situation the same way.
Stephen Weiss: “No fun playing when you’re not at your best. Certainly, I haven’t been able to show my best yet."— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) February 22, 2014
No hockey player, certainly not a veteran like Weiss, wants to come to a new team and underperform, let alone do so as drastically as has Weiss. Not contributing, playing fewer and fewer minutes and watching the team struggle because of it is a terrible feeling to endure and one Weiss has got to be prepared to put in the past when he once again takes the ice for Detroit.
Weiss’ rehabilitation has likely been as important mentally as it has been physically. And that, perhaps more than any reason, is why his teammates and fans alike should expect much more from him the rest of the season than he’s produced thus far.
One can imagine a scenario by which Weiss is called into head coach Mike Babcock’s office in a day or two and told, in simple and direct language, that he has one option the rest of the season—play your ever-loving butt off.
You see, Detroit may be stuck with Weiss as his lack of production and contract make him utterly untradeable, but Weiss is also stuck with Detroit. He may have had a hard time adjusting to life as a Red Wing (as puzzling as that is) but there’s simply nowhere for Weiss to go but up from this point. In that way, he and his team have yet another thing in common.
The Detroit Red Wings will be playing for their playoff lives the rest of the season. They will require every player to match that desperation shift after shift. As his body is healed and his mind is rested, Stephen Weiss should have plenty to give to that effort.