Stephen Weiss scored 20 goals and 57 points in 80 games for the Panthers last season and will be a UFA this summer. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Florida Panthers poor start (1-4 in their opening five games) has sparked trade talk involving center and alternate captain Stephen Weiss.
When Weiss was removed from the lineup prior to Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, he was reported as a healthy scratch. That resulted in trade speculation on Twitter until the Panthers announced Weiss had suffered a lower-body injury.
Three days later, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported there was “talk” Weiss, an unrestricted free agent this summer, could be moved by the April 3 trade deadline. Garrioch claimed the Panthers, struggling for capital amid rumors they could be up for sale, might trade Weiss because they lack the cash to re-sign him.
Prior to last season, Weiss was a frequent fixture in the trade rumor mill, even though he was on a six-year, $18.6-million contract with a full no-movement clause. The Panthers surprising playoff appearance last season (their first since 2000) silenced those rumors, but given their poor start and Weiss' pending free agent status, it's not surprising questions over his future have resurfaced.
Despite Weiss' contract status, the Panthers won't shop him if they rally back into playoff contention by the trade deadline. On the other hand, if they're outside the playoff picture and cannot afford to re-sign him, they cannot risk losing him to free agency for nothing.
Should Weiss hit the trade market, the Vancouver Canucks could be the leading suitors, given goaltender Roberto Luongo preferred trade destination is back to the Panthers. The Canucks need skilled depth at center and with Ryan Kesler hobbled by injuries, it's easy to envision Weiss heading to Vancouver as part of the return for Luongo.
A deal with the Canucks is not a certainty, as they would want to re-sign Weiss before accepting him as part of a return for Luongo. Weiss' “no-movement” clause also gives him control over trade destinations.
If the Panthers don't trade Weiss, re-signing him could be difficult. The pool of potentially available first-line centers this summer is a thin one, with Weiss, Ryan Getzlaf and Mike Ribeiro among the youngest and most talented of the bunch.
Getzlaf would attract the most attention and the biggest bucks if he hits the open market. Ribeiro has better career stats than Weiss, but the latter is younger and could be more affordable. A Toronto native, Weiss could prove attractive to the Maple Leafs, who are in dire need of a first-line center.
To date, there's been no comment from the Panthers regarding their sale status or Weiss' future, but if they keep struggling, expect their captain's name to keep popping up in the rumor mill.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.