When Stephen Weiss played his first full season in Florida — as a 19-year-old — he was part of a young, 25-and-under core than included Jay Bouwmeester, Niklas Hagman, Kristian Huselius, Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo.
That was nine years ago.
Since then, the organization’s undergone sweeping changes, with Weiss remaining the lone constant. And now that he’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, assists and points, Weiss is relishing the decision to stick with the team — namely because the Panthers are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
“It’s been tough, a long 10 years. You wonder if you’re doing the right thing,” Weiss told WQAM 560 Miami. “It was worth staying, trusting Dale [Tallon]. We have some young kids coming up who will be pretty special. I want to be a part of that. But it’s been tough. You go home early in the summer and wonder if you’re doing the right thing for yourself and your career.
“You want to be loyal by at the same time there’s only so many years to play. And you want to be able to play for the Stanley Cup. I’m excited to get my first taste.”
Weiss has seen plenty of tough times during his Panthers career, but perhaps none as bad as the 2011 trade deadline. Florida shipped out veterans Radek Dvorak, Dennis Wideman, Bryan Allen, Chris Higgins, Cory Stillman and Bryan McCabe, leaving Weiss to wonder what the gameplan was moving forward.
“I think the low moment was last year around the trade deadline when we got rid of like seven veterans,” he said. “It was a complete rebuild again. That was a tough moment, but there have been a lot.
“I never wanted to go anywhere else. At the same time, at the end of every season when it’s still not working out, you wonder if you’re doing the right thing. When I saw what Dale was doing this summer, bringing in all those guys — I knew what kind of quality guys we had — I was pumped.”
Weiss could be even more pumped after tonight. The Panthers have a chance to lock up the Southeast Division title and the Eastern Conference’s third overall seed — all they need is a win against Carolina.