DETROIT – It was worst than anyone knew.
As the Red Wings cleaned out their locker room at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, Stephen Weiss revealed that the sports hernia – which forced the Red Wings’ center to miss more than two-thirds of the regular season and the playoffs – was bothersome prior to the season-opener last October.
“Coming down for the first game of the year and thinking ‘How are you going to get through the game?’ is probably not the right way to start,” said Weiss, who has undergone two surgeries since December. “I have to be smarter. It’s not my first year, I’ve been around a bit and should be a little bit smarter and should have spoken up earlier and maybe some of this could have been avoided.
“But sometimes that’s not my style. I’ll tend to do that and it got me in some trouble this year. Huge disappointment, but in saying that it kind of fuels the fire for this summer and next year.”
Weiss first underwent surgery to repair the hernia on Dec. 23. The Philadelphia doctor who did the core muscle surgery originally thought that Weiss would be back in 6-8 weeks and playing soon after the Sochi Olympics.
But that never happened.
The significant tear and damage done to his core muscles produced a large amount of scar tissue that slowed Weiss’s rehabilitation and eventually ended his season. Last Tuesday, he returned to Philadelphia where doctors surgically removed scar tissue.
“Right now it’s just the rehab process again,” Weiss said. “So we’ll go through that in the next few weeks and obviously be in contact with the doctor and go through that protocol and then he wanted me to get back on the ice in about six weeks and see how it is.”
By then Weiss will be home in Toronto for the summer where he plans to continue his rehab with former NHL star Gary Roberts as he prepares for the start of September’s training camp in Traverse City.
“I’m confident that we did the right things all the way through as much as we knew what was wrong and tried to go about it the right way,” Weiss said. “Just never really recovered properly, so I’m going to work hard this summer like I did last summer. Just be a little smarter.”
Surgeries have limited Weiss to 43 games played in the past 15 months. If the scar tissue was truly the problem, Wings general manager Ken Holland hopes Weiss can bounce back to the offensive levels that he was at before the NHL lockout. He had season-ending surgery on his right wrist in March 2013.
“We thought Stephen was going to be our second-line center,” Holland said. “We needed more offense. Prior to last year he produced 48 points or more in five of six years. It was a disappointing year.”
Last July, the Red Wings signed Weiss and penciled him in to replace Valtteri Filppula, who left for a free-agency deal in Tampa Bay. Weiss, who played his junior hockey in suburban Plymouth with the OHL’s Whalers, signed a five-year, free-agency contract worth $24.5 million.
Joining a new team, playing for a new coach in a market that he was quite familiar; Weiss heaped a lot of pressure on himself to produce immediately. And that meant trying to play through pain.
“It’s been a big disappointment but I don’t know how much I’d change other than being a little smarter in the summer and maybe a little smarter at the start of the season, not trying to play through these types of things as much as I did,” Weiss said. “Even though it was my first year and I wanted to do things the right way, maybe taking a little time off at the start of the season would have done me better than pushing through and trying to be a little bit of a hero that way. … I got myself into some trouble that could have been avoided by being a little bit smarter.”
The 31-year-old Weiss produced two goals and four points with a minus-4 rating in 26 games for the Red Wings.
“I don’t have an answer for you. I thought he’d be healthy six weeks ago,” Holland said. “So for me to stand here and say he’s going to be healthy in a month, he’s going to have a great summer, he’s going to have a great year, I don’t know that. We need him to get healthy before anything positive can happen.”