Through all the doom and gloom that has been this Panthers season, defenseman Mike Weaver sees opportunity and hope.
Weaver said Friday that he anticipated the Panthers would go through some growing pains in the first year under general manager Dale Tallon.
“I knew what I was getting into when I signed,'' said Weaver, who signed a two-year deal with the Panthers over the summer. “Dale called me and said he had a blueprint to build this franchise. He asked me if I wanted to come along for the ride. I was all for it.''
Weaver said while he doesn't enjoy the losing that's going on right now, he agreed with Tallon's decision to sell off veterans at the trade deadline and help prepare the team for the future.
If the salary cap rises as expected next year, the Panthers could have in excess of $30 million to spend just to get to the league-mandated salary cap floor. The Panthers are going to be a very different looking team next season an that, Weaver says, is exciting.
“We're moving in the right direction and I'm really excited about next year,'' Weaver said. “Dale has a vision and you can see it in his face. He's confident and knows where this is going to lead. He's been there. How can this not be a great destination? It's a great place to play, we have great weather. Players have a choice in free agency but I don't think many know about the facilities we have. We have the structure here. We just need the personnel to reach his goal.''
Coach Pete DeBoer, who gave his players the day off on Friday, said it's good to have players like Weaver who keep things in perspective. Yet he understands the frustrations of Florida veterans such as Stephen Weiss and Tomas Vokoun who have been around the franchise for some time and have yet to play in the postseason as a member of the Panthers.
“You have a couple different groups of veterans here, the ones who have been here six or seven years and then you have the Mike Weavers,'' DeBoer said. “Weiss and Vokoun are having a hard time swallowing this, and you completely understand that. But at the same time, all of them come to the rink as pros and work hard. I haven't seen a change in their work or attitude. But when you're honest, they've been through this a long time.
“The general attitude has been good. It's an opportunity to learn, to earn jobs. We've been in so many close games, it just tells you we're just a couple of good players short of being right in the hunt.''
-- With only two players – injured wingers Ryan Carter and Evgeny Dadonov – on the ice Friday, DeBoer took advantage of the situation and worked out his two young sons.
Outfitted in their Junior Panthers practice jerseys, Jack and Matthew DeBoer – off for Spring Break -- worked on skating and shooting drills as their dad barked directions and collected pucks.
“It's called March break responsibilities,'' Pete DeBoer said. “That was as much fun as I've had in a while. In this business, you don't get to see the kids much.''
The Owls, a Division III club team, went 0-3 in pool play this week. Coach Peter Worrell's season isn't over, however: His North Broward Prep team is also participating in a national tournament up north.
SATURDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Panthers lead 52-34-10
The game: The Lightning had lost four straight before beating Chicago on Wednesday night and played host to the Senators on Friday. One of those losses came in a shootout to Washington as the Capitals went into Friday holding a two-point lead on Tampa Bay atop the Southeast Division. Florida has won three of four games against the Lightning. The Panthers final road game of the season comes on April 8 in Tampa.