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Stephen Weiss(notes) had a breakout year for the Florida Panthers last season, his eighth with the franchise. He scored 28 goals, a career high, and enters this season as one of the team's most tenured players.

The Panthers open their season at the Edmonton Oilers tonight. We recently spoke with Weiss about Florida's chances this season; new GM Dale Tallon; the loss of Nathan Horton(notes); David Booth's(notes) concussion last season; attracting fans in South Florida; LeBron and the Heat; the nightlife in South Beach; Ballard vs. Vokoun; and when players auction themselves off as dates for charity.


Q. What are your general thoughts about the team headed into this season?

WEISS: Very excited. We've got a lot of new faces, a new GM and a new assistant GM. Dale's brought in a new attitude, with all the young guys. It's good to see that youthful energy. Really excited about the season. Really excited to work for him, and hopefully be here long enough to see this thing turn around -- to play playoff hockey and eventually challenge for a Stanley Cup.

What kind of guy is Tallon?

I had the opportunity to talk to a few guys who worked with him before and all the scouting reports I got was that he's the best guy in hockey. He's been awesome. Very personable guy. Likes to talk to the guys. Likes to get to know you. But it is business, and we have to get better every game. As long as you do that, you're not going to have any problems with Dale.

So you're the old man now at 27, right?

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. It's scary.

You killed it last year with 28 goals. What contributed most to the season you had?

It starts in the summer, getting bigger and stronger every year. But it's also just getting more comfortable at this level. Knowing what to expect. Those little plays here or there that you might not make as a young guy, you start feeling more comfortable with. Being around the net more; I got a lot of goals around the crease, in tight. Learning how to score at this level has been a challenge, but hopefully I can keep it up.

In going to the net more, is that a decision you made or a tactical decision someone else made?

It's both. It's talked about by every team to be around the blue paint for rebounds, so I try do that as much as possible. Shooting a puck more is part of it too. I want to be a playmaker, but I don't want to be predictable.

Let me ask you about David Booth, your linemate: Were you surprised how quickly the NHL moved to change its rules on blindside hits?

Not really. I think that with the speed of the game and the size and with how guys are training now, it's something that had to be addressed. It was a lot of guys who got hurt last season, not just Boother. We have to have respect in the League amongst players where if you have a chance to take a run at a guy who's in a vulnerable position, you have to think twice.

So how does life change without Nathan Horton on your line, after he was traded to the Boston Bruins?

It's going to change a lot. He's a word class player. It's nice to have that right shot on your line who sees the ice that well. But at the same time, playing with David Booth and Michael Frolik(notes) isn't so bad either.

If there was a gun to your head on predicting Nathan's numbers this year in Boston, what would you say?

Aw, man, you're putting me on the spot. Uh ... sky's the limit for him. I don't want to give him too much confidence because I'm playing against him. But I've said it before: He's got the talent to be one of the best players in the League.

Horton decided he wanted to leave the franchise after years of service. What's the reaction in the room to something like that? Does it say anything about the direction of the team?

I don't think so. Nathan put his time in here, and we went through some tough times. It's up to each individual guy to decide if he wants to stay here and push through and get this thing turned around; or if you want to go somewhere else. And that was up to him.

For me, this is where I was drafted, and this organization has shown a lot of confidence in me. I feel like I owe them at least to get this team into the playoffs and try to win the Stanley Cup. And we haven't even been close.

Well, we were close two years ago, missing out on the second tiebreaker. This is where I want to be and where I want to win.

Second tiebreakers can be a pain in the ass.

I would have liked to play a game to fight for that spot. But the rules are the rules.

Do you believe that with a few years of strong playoff contention or appearances, that the market turns around down there?

Absolutely. Two years ago, when we were on that run, the building was rocking. It was a great place to play. When we're not doing well, you don't get as many people. It's up to us to make sure that we're winning, and that we're putting an exciting product on the ice, and people are going to be there.

We can't expect, being at the bottom of the conference, that we're going to have 19,000 people at our game here in South Florida at the game. It's not Toronto or Montreal. We have to win hockey games. That's how we're going to get fans here and grow this game.

How cognizant are you guys when it comes to the all of the unorthodox things the Panthers have done in their ticket sales plans?

I'm sure guys are aware. Guys check out the websites here, and see that kind of stuff. But we're in the business of selling the game too, so we have to be aware of that stuff. But the bottom line is that if we win hockey games, they're going to be here.

That said: Would you ever auction yourself off like Shawn Matthias did, or is that too "Slap Shot" for you?

You know what? I've done it. Maybe around his age, when I was 19. I went on a date with a young lady there, had a good time. When the team asks you to do something like that, it's not a big deal to volunteer your time and go out with a young, cute girl for the night and try to get here to come to some games.

What's the scene down there like for a player? Do you do the South Beach thing?

My first few years I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, that's pretty much where I was told to go as a young guy. Little bit more action down there. But I tired of the drive to the rink every day. Being the old man that I am now, I moved closer to the rink. A little more quiet atmosphere.

It's a great place to live, but we're not here for nice weather; we're here to win games. It's something that you definitely have to mention to the young guys: To keep all that in perspective and focus on hockey, because it can be a little bit distracting.

So as a leading scorer for the Florida Panthers ... can you get Miami Heat tickets this year?

[Laughs] I hope so! To be honest with you, I haven't been to a Heat game since I've been where. I think with the new signings that they have, I'll have to go down there and check it out.

Do you think if you gave him a Stephen Weiss autographed puck, that you could get an autographed LeBron jersey from LeBron?

I don't know about that ... I'll ask. Maybe I can get the autographed LeBron jersey without giving up anything of mine. Because I don't think he's want anything of mine.

As a guy who's worn the Florida Panthers jersey for a while, what are your thoughts on the third jersey?

I talked about it with Dale. I like the jerseys because they're loose and they feel really light. As a player they feel great. But in terms of the color and logo, I could go either way. The actual logo is a little soft. Getting that fierce Panther back would be good.

Do you think Vokoun feels safer now that Ballard got traded?

[Laughs] We're still talking about this? I think he does. I don't know how Luongo feels.

It was a freak accident. But any time I get a chance to jab Bally, I'll take it.

What are you driving these days?

Range Rover, 2009.

Your adult beverage of choice sir?

Just beer, man. Give me a beer. Canadian and Stella.

Finally, any message for Panthers fan?

Come out and support us. And we'll try to return the favor with wins.

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