Today, the Detroit Red Wings bought out the remaining three years of Stephen Weiss, putting an abrupt end to what was originally a five-year pact made in the offseason of 2013. The story of Weiss' downfall doesn't quite begin with his signing on the dotted line for the Red Wings though.
When the 2010s arrived, the Red Wings had been hoping for someone to stick in the second-line center position so that the Eurotwins Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg could play together consistently on the top line. For a while, it looked like the answer to that hope could be found in Valtteri Filppula. The Finn put up respectable numbers, but not quite to the level everyone had hoped.
The situation came to a head in 2011-12 when Filppula played on a line with Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler that carried the Red Wings and decimated opponents that season. Filppula put up 23 goals and 66 points that season, showing off the potential he had to carry a line so Zetterberg could play with Datsyuk. Unfortunately for Filppula and the Red Wings, he produced only nine goals and 17 points in the shortened 2012-13 season, and in a contract year, the inconsistencies made Detroit shy away from offering him the $5 million per season he wanted. Filppula was making $3 million against the cap at the time.
Enter Stephen Weiss. At the same time Filppula's contract was up, so was Weiss's with the Florida Panthers. While Filppula had hovered around 35-40 points for most of his career, Weiss had been a two-time 60-point scorer and had consistently produced above 40 points for most of his career to that point. Not even the shortened season when he scored only four points in 17 games before bowing out with a wrist injury deterred the Red Wings.
The reaction among Red Wings fans when Weiss signed was pretty evenly split. Weiss was a whopping $100,000 savings per year over Filppula, so plenty of people wondered why Detroit opted for the new guy over keeping Filppula. The hope was that Weiss would recover from that wrist injury and produce more than Filppula had, so Detroit saw it as a worthwhile investment. Full disclosure, I (uvgt2bkdnme) was one of the people who wanted Weiss to sign with us instead of the St. Louis Blues and was happy when he chose Detroit.
What happened when he finally came here may never be entirely clear. Weiss started off very well, making an immediate impression with an overtime game-winner against the Carolina Hurricanes. But his production never made it out of Florida, and we had a constant back-and-forth about when he would return from injuries. And while he was out, there was also the drama of him supposedly playing through injuries and making the pain, himself, and the team worse in the process. He played 26 games in his first season and scored only four points.
The people who didn't want Weiss in the first place had soured on him to the point of wanting to be rid of him completely. It led to the creation of this page because of the number of people who wanted a compliance buyout used on him despite the circumstances forbidding such a maneuver. For people like me who still had hope he could be a productive player, it was worth giving him another season to try to be a productive player, even if it wasn't as a second-line center.
What happened was more of the same. He was healthy at the start of this past season, but he wasn't good enough to crack the top 12 forwards. He opted to do a "conditioning" stint in Grand Rapids where he promptly got injured again. He had a surreal stretch when he came back to the Red Wings, where he scored 10 points in seven games, but he fell out of favor over the remaining months of the season. Outside of that seven-game stretch, he scored 15 points in 45 games and didn't play the last five games of the playoffs.
This is where the Red Wings are. It was better to get rid of a guy taking up $4.9 million of the cap when he wasn't going to produce anywhere close to the necessary production to justify his roster spot and contract.
With Weiss gone, the move represents a promising list of possibilities for the direction of the Red Wings. While it's unfortunate that things ended up like this with Weiss, the Wings end up saving cap space when they need it, even if they are spreading out that lower amount over twice the time period. Weiss was never comfortable in Detroit and he had run out of chances to prove himself as the 2nd line center for which he was signed.
Continuing to pay Weiss while hoping that he could live up to the $4.9M deal had simply become throwing good money after bad by this point. Riley Sheahan has already surpassed Weiss on the depth chart; Luke Glendening earned his spot last year on the team's checking line proving invaluable on the penalty kill; even if you kept Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson, and Johan Franzen on the wing, you'd still be left with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to play at center. Weiss hadn't only failed to be the team's 2C, he also became less valuable to the team than at least four other centers.
None of this roster crunch covers for a very important part of the Wings' needs going forward: developing the next 1C to take over as Datsyuk and Zetterberg continue to age out of that job. Dylan Larkin wowed the world in his first season after being taken 15th overall by Detroit last year, playing as a man among boys at Michigan and a man among men in international competition for Team USA before enjoying a very short and successful stint with Grand Rapids during their playoff run.
Aside from Larkin, Detroit also has two other promising centers in their prospect ranks that could potentially get a look with the big club next season in Tomas Nosek and Andreas Athanasiou. Put bluntly, clearing Weiss gives the team the flexibility to develop these guys without the albatross that was his contract or roster spot blocking the way
I'm sorry that things didn't work out with Weiss, but Ken Holland's willingness to bite the bullet and admit that continuing on the current path would be a mistake is a positive thing for Red Wings fans this summer.