For Weiss, there have been good times—including a 28-goal season in 2009-10—and bad times, like his 13-goal season in 2007-08.
This season, Weiss has registered a total of 16 goals and 40 points through 58 games with the lowly Panthers, which puts him on pace to score around 56 points on the season.
While he's not a lock to be an “elite” No. 1 centre, many experts feel, in the right situation and with the right linemates, that Weiss could be a great No. 1 NHL centre—maybe even a star.
For the most part, even with the benefit of playing on a line with Nathan Horton (now with the Boston Bruins) at times, many experts believe Weiss’ talent has been wasted in Florida. The fact remains that Weiss has never tasted the glory of the playoffs, and the way things are going in Florida, it appears as if it may be another three or four years until they are ready to make a serious run at a playoff spot.
Like many rebuilding teams, the Panthers are expected to make a number of deals at the trade deadline designed to cut salary and gain draft picks and prospects, with the vision of building through the draft.
Signed to a contract that will see him carry a cap hit of $3.1 million through 2012-13, Weiss is moderately priced when you consider his current offensive numbers. That said, when you calculate his upside (which is tremendous), his $3.1 million contract becomes extremely affordable, if not a bargain.
Well-priced players are rare in today’s NHL, so it’s not a lock that Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon would be willing to deal a player of Weiss’ ilk. That said, when asked about potential deals, Tallon stated that he would be willing to look at any and all offers.
Let’s face it—as good as Weiss might be, he and the Panthers haven’t accomplished a darn thing in a decade, which is to say no player should be untouchable in Tallon’s mind.
Word on the street has Tallon attempting to build a long-term winner through the draft. That means players with expiring contracts, such as Bryan McCabe, Cory Stillman, Tomas Vokoun, Darcy Hordichuk, Radek Dvorak, Chris Higgins and Marty Reasoner, may be on the move, as may Steve Bernier, Shawn Matthias, Byron Bitz, Jack Skille, Mike Santorelli and Keaton Ellerby, all of whom are pending restricted free agents.
In all honesty, outside of Vokoun and McCabe, few of those players will garner much in return, if anything.
With that in mind, if Tallon wants to secure first round draft picks and prospects, he will have to trade away some of his better talent, and that is why Stephen Weiss’ name keeps popping up.
From the Toronto Maple Leafs' standpoint, the trading of James Neal and Matt Niskanen from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski, may lead many to believe that the Stars are clearing cap room in order to accommodate the signing of pending unrestricted free agent Brad Richards to a new long-term contract.
The reality is Richards is still the Stars’ property, and until the time he becomes a free agent, the Maple Leafs organization and their fans cannot begin to dream of adding him to their roster. It is that uncertainty that has some fans believing that Toronto general manager Brian Burke may be better off trying to pry away a player like Stephen Weiss from the Florida Panthers instead of taking a “wait and see” attitude on Richards.
So what will it take to land Weiss?
It’s a complicated scenario, but one could guess that the starting point for a player of Weiss’ ilk would be the Maple Leafs' two first round draft choices in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft (acquired through trades with both Philadelphia and Boston) and one of Toronto’s top forward prospects, such as Nazem Kadri, Greg McKegg or Jerry D’Amigo, or one of Burke’s prized goalies, such as Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas or (if healthy) Jonas Gustavsson.
Now, don’t get me wrong—giving up two first round draft choices and a top-flight prospect for any player, even though talented and full of upside, is a bit risky, especially when you consider that Weiss has been on the disappointing side for much of his career. But again, Burke’s choices of landing Richards are slim at best, so you just have to investigate other options.
Looking at the rest of the UFA field, there really isn’t another solid centre worth signing. That said, there will be a number of teams looking to shed salary this summer, but there are no guarantees that any of them will be looking to deal their No. 1 centres.
Is Stephen Weiss the right fit in Toronto? It’s debatable. But at just 27 years of age, Weiss looks to fit the age bracket Burke is trying to build around, and given his reasonable salary, offensive prowess and potential, Weiss looks to be as good a fit as any.
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