Panthers Notebook

If the money is right, Stephen Weiss will return to Florida Panthers

 

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Before speaking to the media Sunday afternoon, Stephen Weiss pulled off his baseball cap and tossed it into the locker stall that used to have his name on it.

Weiss said he hopes that locker space becomes his once more — and said the Panthers have shown interest in bringing him back.

There are a few factors which could end Weiss’ career with the Panthers. The main one, of course, being money.

If the two sides don’t come together, it’s extremely possible Weiss’s return to the BB&T Center for Sunday’s season-ending locker clean-out day could be his last with the Panthers.

Florida ended the 2013 season with a 5-3 win over the Lightning on Saturday.

“I think the consensus is they want me back and I want to be back,” said Weiss, who made his debut with the Panthers in 2002. “It’s just a matter of the numbers game. It’s a business. Sometimes those things don’t fit and don’t make sense. I understand that. We’ll see what we can do.’’

How to handle the Weiss situation is just one of the many issues facing general manager Dale Tallon heading into this offseason.

Tallon, coach Kevin Dineen and many players talked about how the direction of the franchise shouldn’t be judged on 2013’s last-place finish. The Panthers lost a number of key players — Weiss included — for much of the 48-game season because of injuries.

Weiss is Florida’s only major unrestricted free agent going into the offseason, although the team seems to have interest in bringing back goalie Jose Theodore to compete with Jacob Markstrom.

Shawn Matthias, Jack Skille, T.J. Brennan and Peter Mueller are restricted free agents.

“I want us to get better. I want to win,” Tallon said. “I want to build on what we did last year and not tear down everything just because we had a 48-game season that wasn’t an effective one. I’m going to erase this and keep adding pieces to the puzzle.”

The Panthers finished last in the NHL for the first time in franchise history and Dineen says things will change in Sunrise. Dineen and his coaching staff won’t be one of the changes.

Dineen and his assistant coaches are signed through next season and Tallon said they would all return for the 2013-14 campaign.

“To be in the situation that the Panthers [were] this year, you have to address things as a team and we’re going to continue to do that,’’ Dineen said.

This and that

• The Panthers have a 25 percent chance to claim the top pick in the upcoming draft with the lottery held Monday night in Toronto.

Tallon says he is taking his lucky cloverleaf to Toronto for the televised event. If Florida doesn’t win the top selection, it will pick second.

“We should get some exciting new pieces,” Tallon said. “I’m excited about our future. The past is the past.’’

• Winger Kris Versteeg had knee surgery on March 25. Vertseeg said he has been off crutches for the past two weeks but won’t be cleared to skate until August.

Versteeg also said he probably won’t be ready for the start of the season. A November return, he said, is possible.

• Theodore reiterated his desire to return to the Panthers next season, but made it clear he would be fighting for the starting job and wouldn’t just accept being Markstrom’s backup.

Scott Clemmensen is signed through next season and could return if the Panthers decide not to bring Theodore back.

• The Panthers will have a number of players competing in the upcoming IIHF World Championships starting in Sweden and Finland later this week.

Those participating: Nick Bjugstad (Team USA), Brian Campbell (Canada), Markstrom (Sweden), Marcel Goc (Germany), Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia) and Tomas Fleischmann (Czech Republic).

•  Jonathan Huberdeau ended the season tied atop the rookie scoring leaderboard after Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov scored three goals in his season finale late Saturday night.

Yakupov scored six goals in the final three games and tied Huberdeau — who had three assists Saturday — with 31 points.

• Dineen said training camp for the 2013-14 season would start Sept. 11.

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