Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kris Versteeg to the Toronto Maple Leafs

Well, just a few days ago, Stan Bowman was telling us the Blackhawks didn't "need" to trade anybody else, but there's plenty of cap space calculators out there, so anybody with some free time on their hands could figure out that some breather room was still needed.

And teams have just been drooling to get their hands on whatever players the team is willing to wheel n' deal away.


Today's trade, announced late this evening: Kris Versteeg is heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Chicago prospect, winger Bill Sweatt, in exchange for Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico, and Philippe Paradis.

Versteeg is another fan favorite, with plenty of talent and personality; during his rookie year, he was one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy.

But sentimentality has no value on the books, and the Hawks have been crunching numbers hard to get under the salary cap while still retaining as much player value as possible. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane maxed out their bonuses this year, and the team's salary cap has to cover approximately $4.19M of those - taking the Blackhawks' "actual" salary cap down to $55.2M.

The real kicker in this deal? After Versteeg's rookie year with the Blackhawks ('08-'09), his entry-level contract was expiring. If the club had gotten an offer to him in time, chances are that he could've been signed for a much lower salary than his current 3-year, nearly-$9M one. But in what's been labeled "clerical error", the team's qualifying offer wasn't extended to him in time, and a new salary had to be negotiated. This has obviously come full circle as the team faces the salary cap and still lots of team members to get signed (or re-signed).

So the cuts continue: the bold trade cuts that have dealt away Byfuglien, Sopel, Eager, Fraser, Versteeg. The less obvious cuts as pricier UFAs (namely, John Madden) are likely allowed to walk away from the team. It should not be surprising to see so many pruned away so quickly; rare is the Stanley Cup-winning team that can afford to keep its roster intact for the next season. 

It feels painful because this is a team we watched build together, gel together, and lift high hockey's most revered trophy together. The majority of the team's players have been together at least two years; several - such as Sharp and Keith - have been with the team since after the lockout. They are a highly likable bunch of guys, and some of the most colorful and fun personalities on the team have suddenly been shipped off to Toronto, Edmonton, and Atlanta. Every one of them has expressed regret at having to leave Chicago; and those whose futures are not yet clear have voiced a desire to stay.

However, like the move of Colin Fraser to Edmonton, this move may provide a solid boost to Versteeg's career, moving him up into a steady top-six position. (Hossa's arrival to the Blackhawks shook things up a bit.) Time will tell, of course.

Next up on the block could be Andrew Ladd, who has half the teams in the league salivating over him. The Blackhawks have extended a qualifying offer, but due to the numbers crunch, they might not be able to match what other teams are willing to lay on the table.

A winning team is as much about chemistry as it is about the desire to win, talent and hard work. The 2009-2010 Blackhawks were a perfect mix of all of those factors. 

Now the team must begin again - not entirely from scratch; but certainly from a point somewhere between where they were in 2006, and where they were just three weeks ago.


Best of luck to you in Toronto, Mr. Versteeg. We'll miss your engaging personality and your rapping abilities, as well as your play on the ice.






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