Mike Weaver has played for five National Hockey League teams but it looks like Florida may be his last stop. The 33-year-old defenseman is in his second season with the Panthers and signed a two-year extension with the team in December.
When asked what about the Panthers makes him feel most comfortable, Weaver looks around an empty locker room. Well, empty except for the young kids running around playing a makeshift hockey game.
Weaver's young son joins in the game along with the sons of teammates Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. All three wear smaller versions of their dad's sweaters as they knock a foam puck around the room. Weaver watches and smiles.
“I really like what Dale Tallon and Mike Santos have done with this organization and I'm really happy to be a part of it,'' said Weaver, who has played in 486 NHL games, including No. 147 with the Panthers on Sunday.
“These are guys who are on your side and they want what is best for all of us. It's a family and becoming one more so every day. These are guys you want to battle for every night.''
Weaver is one of the more under-rated defensemen in the league – and he knows it. “My agent used to tell me I was most valuable to the team I was with,'' Weaver said. “A general manager has to see me every day to know what I bring to the table.'' Former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau once said he had to move Alex Ovechkin away from Weaver because the Capitals star forward couldn't get any separation when Weaver was on him.
The Panthers, who tried to trade for Weaver when he played for the Blues in 2010, obviously appreciate what Weaver brings to the Panthers.
In Sunday's 4-2 win over Ottawa, Weaver's long shot early in the second period turned into Marcel Goc's initial goal. Weaver added a second assist later in the game and now has 16. Weaver's career high had been the 11 he had last season.
“He had a really good bounce-back effort [Sunday] because I think he was a little stinky on the second goal [Saturday],'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.
“That's not very Weaver-like. He had a great bounce back game and is a very valuable piece of what we're doing.''
() Defenseman Erik Gudbranson says being benched after a poorly-timed shift change during the third period of Saturday's loss to the Predators probably had something to do with him missing Sunday's game, although he is confident he'll have a chance to redeem himself soon.
Dineen said after Sunday's game that he felt Gudbranson needed to “take a breath” as the rigors of being a 19-year-old defenseman in the NHL can be stressful “when things are happening as fast as they are right now.''
With Tyson Strachan up from Florida's AHL team in San Antonio, Dineen had an extra option for Sunday's game and scratched Gudbranson for the first time since Dec. 22. “Tyson had a good game on Saturday,'' Dineen said.
Gudbranson is expected to be back in the lineup Thursday at Philadelphia.
“It's no fun to sit out and watch your team playing out there,'' Gudbranson said. “As a young guy, I can see the game and learn from this. Being on the ice is very different. The way to treat this is learn and make it a positive. I'm not going to question their decision, that's for sure. Whatever is best for the team to win a game is best by me.''
() To see Krys Barch and Gudbranson leading the Panthers in penalty minutes isn't much of a surprise. It is, however, interesting to see Stephen Weiss third on the team in amassing penalties.
Weiss' 50 penalty minutes don't include any fighting majors, but they do include 20 minutes when he was ejected for cursing at an official back in November.
Take those away and he's tied for sixth on the team.
Weiss hasn't been penalized in any of the three games this month, but had been called for six infractions in 14 February games.
“He's a very competitive guy who plays hard every single shift and he's going against very skilled players,'' Dineen said. “That may get hung on me a little bit because I rely on him so heavily.
"Sometimes I may put him out in some situations where his energy may not be where it needs to be and he gets in trouble with his stick. It's a little mix of all of that.''