The days of watching Kris Versteeg skate down the ice with a Florida Panthers uniform chewing his mouthpiece with vigor are over. Nov. 14, Florida sent Versteeg (retaining half of his salary) and minor-leaguer Phillipe Lefebvre to Chicago for forward Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen.
When it comes down to it Versteeg was not playing well. He lacked hustle, tried way too much with the puck, couldn’t find a rhythm and carried the burden of being “the guy” expected to carry a team offensively. In 18 games this season Versteeg had seven points (2-5-7) and was minus-nine. Fans and management alike anticipated better from ole Steeger. After all he was an enormous part of the Florida 2011-12 Southeast Division Championship team. Versteeg had 54 points (23-31-54) in 71 games that season and had five points (3-2-5) in seven games in the playoffs. After that season Versteeg had hip surgery and returned a little late to the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.
Versteeg had an injury plagued 2012-13 season. Returning from hip surgery, Versteeg would again suffer a limited chest injury after being boarded by Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin. Versteeg played 10 games recording four points (2-2-4) and struggled to regain the form that made him a fan favorite in South Florida the year before. On Jan. 31, 2013 against the Winnipeg Jets (a team Versteeg tormented for his two years with Florida) he had a goal and an assist, and it looked like Versteeg possibly was finding a groove again. But alas, this was cut short in the following game he played against the Tampa Bay Lightning in which he sustained what would be a season-ending knee injury in a race for the puck with Lightning defenseman, Radko Gudas. Versteeg then had to undergo ACL surgery.
Two surgeries in two years and under-performing not only statistically, but the lack of effort on the ice is the reason Florida had to make a move with Versteeg. There isn’t a lot of trade value in Florida right now — other than the prospects — and Florida GM Dale Tallon knew he was going to have to shake things up after the team lost nine straight games. Tallon had signed Versteeg to a four-year $4.7M contract two summers ago, and that contract would be hard to move. So Tallon looked to the Midwest again and summoned Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.
Versteeg was sent back to Chicago, the team that put him on the map when he won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Florida once again shipped a veteran, proven player to a team in exchange for “potential”, but the question is really “who wins the trade?” The answer will not be something that will show itself immediately. Time will tell on this trade, mostly because both players do have a chance to prove themselves in Florida versus a log-jammed Chicago roster. Hayes, who scored 25 goals in the AHL last season and stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs in at a massive 221-pounds, brings size and strength to the Panthers lineup. The 22-year old, Dorchester, MA native was a second round draft choice (60th overall) in 2008 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and spent three seasons at Boston College amassing 81 points (42-39-81) in 117 games, including winning a 2010 National Championship with BC. At the NHL level Hayes has 13 points (6-7-13) in 43 games.
Olsen has been more of a project. A product of the AJHL, the 22-year old defenseman is more a stay-at home type of blue-liner. He was Tallon’s last first round selection (28th overall) as GM of Chicago back in 2009. Olsen spent two years at Minnesota-Duluth putting together 24 points (2-22-24) in 53 games. Olsen has spent three seasons in the AHL with the Rockford Icehogs and earned his first NHL call up last season playing 28 games for Chicago registering an assist and a minus-five rating.
Hayes is set to make his debut for Florida tonight against the Colorado Avalanche while Olsen has been sent to the San Antonio Rampage, Florida’s AHL affiliate. Versteeg will make his Chicago return tonight against the Nashville Predators. Versteeg has a chance to mesh right into a system, team and coaching staff he’s familiar with. He can still be a very good player in Chicago since he is comfortable there and will adjust quickly. This trade is easy to say that Chicago won right now, but if Hayes and Olsen pan out then Tallon made a good trade.