Bring up last season during a phone conversation with Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss and as he talks you can picture him squirming on the other end, recalling the pain that used to shoot through his lower body and the multiple surgeries he had to hopefully correct it.
"I really have tried not to think about last year at all," Weiss said. "I don't really know why that happened. I try to do everything in my power to make sure those things don't happen, and when they do it's pretty frustrating."
The Red Wings signed Weiss to a five-year, $24.5 million contract last summer thinking he would be their No. 2 center, affording coach Mike Babcock the ability to play Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together on the first line.
But Weiss' season was over in mid-December.
Weiss had sports hernia surgery Dec. 23. He thought he could return after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but a setback led to more pain, more visits with the doctor and eventually another operation April 21 to remove scar tissue.
"A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin," Weiss said.
Now four months removed from his second surgery, Weiss said he's healthy and ramping up his skating to be ready to earn his job back as the No. 2 center. If Weiss can do it he'll be the equivalent of the big free-agent acquisition Detroit didn't have this summer.
Weiss averaged 53 points and 77 games played per season from 2006-12. He had four points in 26 games last season.
"I think we've put a nail on the head here of what the big issue was," Weiss said. "I'm back to normal, not having any pain, and I'm slowly starting to get explosive again. It's tough to compete at this level when you're not 100 percent."
Weiss said he thinks the root of last season's problem stemmed from how he trained in the offseason. He said he did too much, and by the start of the season his body already was breaking down. He didn't say anything at first because he was worried about impressing the coaches and living up to his contract. That only made things worse.
"Sometimes when you go to a new team and you've got a big contract, you're so busy trying to prove yourself and earn your contract that you don't want to make any excuses and you don't want to make anyone think you're bailing," Babcock said. "Well, it's not bailing, it's called injured, and when you're injured you can't play in our League. You've got to get fixed. Stephen didn't help himself and in the end ended up with a setback."
Weiss has tried to correct that this summer by being more cautious in his training.
"I skated about six or seven weeks after the [second] surgery," he said. "All was good there, and I've been going on twice a week since mid-July. I've done enough to know it's good."
Good enough to let him return to being the 50-plus-point, 70-plus-game center he was in Florida?
"I'm confident," Weiss said. "I know I can play the game and I'm a threat on the team as a No. 2 center with those two guys [Datsyuk and Zetterberg] coming out first. We should be able to do some damage if we're healthy."
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