As the Chicago Blackhawks roll into the sunshine state for a two game set, we take a look at former Chicago Blackhawks player Kris Versteeg in his new role as leading point getter for the Florida Panthers.
Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, 135th overall in 2004, Kris Versteeg spent parts of four seasons in the American Hockey League with Providence, Norfolk & Rockford where he eventually settled into the dangling, pesky player that he is today. His coming out party was surely in Rockford where in addition to his 49 points in 56 games, Versteeg who is ‘small’ in size, battled to 174 minutes in penalties.
The Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada native would go onto a great rookie campaign as a 22 year old in a Blackhawks uniform. He would score 22 goals and 53 points, good enough for 4th on the Blackhawks. Versteeg also led all rookies with 31 assists and garnered Calder Trophy nomination only to be beaten out by Columbus goalie, Steve Mason.
The swagger that would come with success in his first full season would help him develop as a strong two way player. Versteeg was a critical cog in the Blackhawks run to the Stanley Cup in 2009-10. With 20 goals and 44 points and 35 PIMs, he killed penalties and was featured on the power play. Though offensively he had fallen off slightly from his 2008-09 numbers, Kris came to play in the post season. He had 14 points and 2 big game winning goals, perhaps none bigger than this gem against Roberto Luongo in the dying minutes of game 2 against the Vancouver Canucks. Below Video is courtesy of NHLVideo on www.youtube.com.
– ‘What if Versteeg didn’t make Madison’s house go mad?’
In retrospect, after all the celebrating was done, the summer following their Cup win from a business perspective was not the most memorable for Kris Versteeg. It started with the NHL misspelling his name on the Stanley Cup, ‘Vertseeg vs. Versteeg’ (say that 3 times fast).
A season earlier in an apparent clerical error, Dale Tallon, then manager of the Blackhawks, and his staff failed to tender qualifying offers to their Pending RFAs by the league deadline. This issue caused uproar in Chicago hockey circles and eventually meant that these players became UFAs and were overpaid to stay in Chi-town. Versteeg, who wanted to stay in Chicago, signed a 3 year deal worth 9 million US.
Unfortunately this gaffe was the last straw for Chicago ownership who fired Dale Tallon. Stan Bowman who in one of his first acts as the replacement General Manager made a series of trades to clear some room under the cap and essentially tear down the team that just won the Stanley Cup. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg were all casualties of the Hawks mismanagement.
Versteeg and prospect Bill Sweat were sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Viktor Stalberg and prospects Phillipe Paradis and Chris DiDomenico. Going to Toronto, arguably the hockey Mecca meant that expectations were high. It was a different role for Versteeg who had previously been a prolific third line guy and now was expected to put up the big points and play big minutes. In the end, 35 points in 53 games which was was about the same PPG (points per game) from a year earlier was not enough. The expectations had changed everything and the Maple Leafs who were starting to offload higher end talent transferred Versteeg and his contract to the Flyers for a pair of draft picks (1st & 3rd round).
Philadelphia were familiar with Versteeg as a season earlier he was a member of the Hawks team that crushed their chances to raise Stanley. With Versteeg in tow, the Philly would win the Atlantic Division, finish 2nd in the conference and go the distance in round one against the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately, unlike the previous season, the Flyers would bow out quietly in round 2, succumbing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in a completely one sided series (4-0 Bruins).
On July 1st in the midst of free agent frenzy, and on the heels of a complete overhaul in Philadelphia, Versteeg was dealt again to his 4th team in a year, his current team, the Florida Panthers. Dale Tallon who is apparently prepared to live or die by the sword brought in Kris Versteeg because he has been a proven winner. Florida is currently 6th in the Eastern Conference which is higher than any of the pundits (yours truly included) would have expected. Part of this is due to the great play of one Kris Versteeg and other former Hawks in Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky. Versteeg and Campbell have been point a game players in the early going. And although Kris and his teammates are enjoying their time in the sunbelt, one has to wonder what could have been. Kris expressed his thoughts in this piece done by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in regards to his time in Chicago, his new club in Miami and tonight’s matchup.
This quote is from that story. Versteeg says:
“In a perfect world it would’ve been nice to see what we could’ve done together for some years, but I’m also excited about carrying it on to a new team, It’s like a rock star, you just want that feeling again. It’s almost depressing when you watch Boston win the Cup, because you want to do it again, so you get jealous of teams that win. Obviously we want to do it here.”
From his time rapping in the Stanley Cup Parade to the mouth guard hanging out of his mouth on the rush, I think I can safely speak on behalf of Hawks fans and say. “Kris, they miss you too”.
Stephen is a writer for thehockeywriters.com covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and other Hockey Matters. Stephen attended Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario where he studied Broadcast Journalism and covered local sports for both Radio and Television. This included news coverage for the OHL’s North Bay Centennials. In his personal time, Stephen blogs for his several fantasy hockey leagues.