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Stephen Weiss, Florida Panthers Deal with Trade Rumors ... After Nine Seasons, is Weiss on the Move? ... Bryan McCabe Probable as Red Wings Come to Town

Weiss2 Stephen Weiss is playing hurt and it's definitely affecting his play as the Panthers top-line center hasn't scored a goal in five games and hasn't recorded a point in three. Trade rumors surrounding Weiss haven't helped matters.

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

It's apparent Stephen Weiss is playing through some injuries. The Panthers top-line center has seen his production drop off as his shot doesn't have the juice it once did, his skills in the faceoff circle not  coming through.

“He's playing through some things other guys wouldn't,'' coach Pete DeBoer said Thursday. “I have no issue with that.''

Yet the thing that seems to be hurting Weiss the most isn't his wrist, hand, shoulder, hip, knee or groin. No, what appears to be bothering Weiss the most these days is the thought that the Florida Panthers may not want him anymore. And that's not the case. The Panthers just don't have many valuable chips to deal in which to rebuild. Weiss is one of them.

“I love it here and I don't want to go anywhere. I'll stay here until my career is over if they'll let me,'' Weiss said Thursday morning, his eyes affixed on the locker room floor. “But it's not up to me. If management feels like they want to make a move and want to move on, I'll have to consider it.''

Weiss' name has been circulating the past few weeks, fueled by general manager Dale Tallon telling NHL.com that he would field offers for any player. Said Tallon: “This team hasn't done anything in 10 years, so why wouldn't I?''

Weiss has been linked to Montreal, Boston, Washington and Los Angeles. It's going to take a bundle for  Tallon to part with his top center, a product of the Florida system who, unlike a good number, want to be part of the Panthers solution and not bail on it.

The reality is, Weiss is probably not going anywhere. The Panthers have “plenty of holes” as DeBoer put it. Weiss is not one of them. Despite his offensive struggles – which DeBoer has written off to his increasing number of injuries – Weiss is still very productive. He also carries a very favorable contract (signed through 2012-13 at $3.1 million per season) and is considered one of the Panthers true leaders.

“I try to not listen to it, but to be honest, it's weighing on my mind,'' Weiss said. “The unknown, not knowing what's going on. I've never been in this position before. It's a first, a new thing for me. I've talked to some guys who have been through it, and they say that you can't think about it and keep playing. I know that already. But, certainly, it is a little bit different and it's been bugging me a little.''

An alternate captain for four seasons, Weiss is the heavy favorite to be Florida's next captain if Bryan McCabe were to be moved by the Feb. 28 trade deadline or not return next season.

“He's been a leader here since Day One,'' said DeBoer, who coached Weiss in the Canadian junior leagues from 1999-2001. “He hasn't looked for a way out of town, hasn't complained about personnel or linemates, what we're spending or not spending. He comes to work and does his job. That's leadership and you have to admire that.''

Where once Olli Jokinen bore the weight of the Panthers historic playoff drought, that burden has now been passed to Weiss. If Weiss remains healthy and stays put – and the Panthers don't pull a postseason miracle -- he will go into next season with 562 NHL games played without appearing in a single playoff contest.

Former Panthers assistant coach Guy Charron holds the record for most games played (734) without appearing in a playoff game. Jokinen had surpassed Charron with 827 games before making it with Calgary in 2009.

“I think every time I've come to the rink over the past week it's popped into my head that this could be my last day here,'' he said. “Is this the day I'm going to get called in? For the most part, I try not to think about it and go about my business, do what I do. You feel a little bit helpless, you don't know what's going on with your own life.''

All the losing has wore on Weiss, but he's loyal to a fault. The Panthers made him the fourth overall selection in a 2001 Draft held in the building he now calls home 41 nights a year. Weiss has gone through five coaches, six general managers and countless teammates since he made his NHL debut with the Panthers on April 3, 2002 against Pittsburgh.

Some scouts figure Weiss deserves to be moved, if for nothing else but a change of scenery. Weiss has been in Florida too long, some observe, the losing culture becoming part of his fabric.

“I don't buy that 'change of scenery' stuff,'' DeBoer said. “You look at the players who have left with the supposed change of scenery since I've been here and you don't see any of them turning into different players than they were when they were here. That goes back to Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton.

“This is a guy who deserves to see the fruits of where this is going to go. He's obviously been through the tough times and deserves to see the other side when we get there.''

Weiss has a no-movement clause in his contract, meaning he can decline any deal the Panthers come up with. He says he hasn't talked to management nor has he been asked to waive the no-trade. No one wants to be where they aren't wanted, although that's probably not the case here. Odds are, Weiss is going to get his wish and continue to play for the Panthers.

“I'm going to stay here and play and play hard for the guys who are here,'' Weiss said. “If the time comes and they call me in and tell me they want to make a change, well, I'll have to sit down and decide what I want to do. The good thing is I have the option and can pick and choose where I want to go. That's the only positive thing.''

-- McCabe, out since Jan. 15 with a broken jaw, practiced again on Thursday and DeBoer said he was probable for Friday's much anticipated game against the Red Wings. All the tarps have been removed from the upper deck at BankAtlantic Center and a sellout is expected.

FRIDAY: RED WINGS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Detroit leads 12-4-5
The game: The Panthers have had 17 of their past 20 games decided by a single goal. Wednesday's 4-2 loss to Philadelphia snapped a run of eight straight one-goal games. .-.-. The two teams have split the four games played since 2005-06; last year's win was Florida's first in Detroit since 1996. .-.-. The Red Wings went into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay with wins in three of their past four – including a pair of decisive wins against the Bruins.

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