Florida Panthers forward Stephen Weiss, centre, splits between Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Brett Lebda, left, and Mike Komisarek, right, during first period NHL action in Toronto on Tuesday, October 26, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
TORONTO - Stephen Weiss had a chance to turn his back on the Florida Panthers.
The centre spoke with Dale Tallon shortly after he took over as general manager and was given the opportunity to ask for a one-way ticket out of Miami.
"Dale just briefly called in the summer and asked if I still wanted to be here—and I said 'yes,'" Weiss said Tuesday.
Others might not have taken the same approach. When Weiss suits up for the Panthers on Thursday night in Ottawa, it will be the 489th game of his NHL career—all in the regular season.
It's been over 10 years since the team qualified for the playoffs, so Weiss has seen more than his share of losses. The team's first-round draft pick from 2001 has also seen a lot of faces come and go, including fellow top choices Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton.
"It's bit of a weird feeling, for sure, to not have any of the guys that I came in with here any more," said Weiss. "But at the same time, I'm honoured to still be here. I've been through a lot of coaches and GMs and to still be wanted here is a good feeling.
"I was drafted here and want to be here when this team turns the corner. Hopefully we can do that sooner than later."
The Panthers are off to a modest 3-4-0 start, but four of those games have been played on the road in Canadian cities. After Thursday's visit to Ottawa and Saturday's game in Montreal, they will have already faced every Canadian team.
They are a difficult bunch to play against. Florida is among the league leaders with an average of 2.14 goals against and 27.6 shots against per game.
Interestingly, Tallon is one of the main reasons for optimism in South Florida after building the Chicago Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup champion.
"I think Dale's an unbelievable person and a really smart hockey man," said Weiss. "I really like the pieces that he brought in. There's just a totally different feel around here—it kind of feels like my first year all over again.
"I'm really excited to see what happens this season and what we can do over the next couple years."
Weiss had a career-best 28 goals last season but has been held to just one so far this year. He's currently playing with a chin guard after taking a puck in the face and losing a tooth.
"I can eat a little bit," he said. "Not steak or anything."
No one took the Panthers near-miss in 2008-09 harder than Weiss.
They tied Montreal for eighth in the Eastern Conference that season but were kept out of the playoffs by a tiebreaker. He thinks it's only a matter of time before they get in again.
"I don't want to leave and have it turn around without me," said Weiss. "I want to be here and finish what I started when I was drafted. It will make it all worthwhile."