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Fine, I'll say it: Kris Versteeg is a bargain

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The days of criticizing Kris Versteeg for a lack of production are over. In fact, he might be one of the best values on the Blackhawks this season.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With each turn, it holds on for dear life. Every violent vibration is another reminder of its fragile existence, glued together by metals and gears and Malort. Sparks fly in every direction, joined by the piercing screeches of disorder setting in. This is a hype train that no longer has a station.

It's time to stop complaining about Kris Versteeg.

VersteegShot

(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

This isn't to say that the original Versteeg narrative didn't make sense. Entering the season, expectations surrounding the winger were extremely low, for good reason. He was a borderline disaster less than a year ago, stumbling through the postseason with a kind of lethargy that was almost inexplicable.

Versteeg was indeed terrible, and fans were right to be concerned. For a team with such limited available payroll, every wasted dollar becomes especially painful to swallow. With Versteeg, it was particularly frustrating given the team chose him over younger, cheaper players.

However, the Blackhawks always stood by the veteran winger, whether out of desperation or genuine confidence. And three weeks into the 2014-15 season, Versteeg is making good on that. Not everyone loves his style, but 'Steegs has emerged as one of the best values on the roster.

Versteeg Comparables

There's a bizarre line of thinking in some circles that Versteeg isn't a bad player, he's just overpaid. I have no idea where this idea came from, but it's ludicrous, because Versteeg's salary is arguably the single biggest reason he's important to the 'Hawks.

With a $2.2 million cap hit to Chicago, Versteeg isn't exactly being paid like a high-level forward. Sure, his overall salary of $4.4 million might be a tad hefty, but who cares? The Blackhawks are only saddled with half of that figure, and at that price, Versteeg is a damn bargain. Seriously.

Here's a list of the Versteeg's top comparables from CapGeek and their 2014-15 numbers, sorted by PPG:

VersteegComps

It's simply not true to say that Versteeg is overpaid. Looking at this list, and recognizing that Schwartz is on a bridge deal signed at last-second, you're talking about one of the better bargains among mid-level forwards in the entire NHL.

But can it last?

This is probably the question that everyone is most intrigued by. Sure, Versteeg is playing great hockey right now, but there's no guarantee he'll continue playing this well into the spring. After all, a 0.82 PPG would be the highest of the 28-year-old's career, doubling the 0.46 figure he put up in 63 games with the 'Hawks last season.

However, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Versteeg.

First, while his shooting percentage is a bit high at 15.9 percent, that's only 0.1 percent higher than the mark he posted during his rookie season. And even that figure hasn't proven to be sustainable throughout his career, a small decrease would still leave Versteeg with the highest goal rate of his career.

That's because the winger is taking more shots per game than ever before. Through 17 games, Versteeg has already fired 44 shots on goal, an average of 2.59 per night. That's similar to the mark he posted (2.53) when he scored a career-high 23 goals for the Florida Panthers in 2011-12.

Only Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith have averaged more shots attempts per contest. And given the strong possession numbers he's posting on the best possession team in the league, there's reason to believe those chances will continue heading his way.

When it comes to sustaining this production, the biggest question mark is who Versteeg will be partnered with. Scoring goals next to Jonathan Toews is obviously easier to doing the same with Andrew Shaw up the middle, and it's no coincidence that he's often played his best when partnered with stars.

Still, while we don't know exactly how the team plans to use Versteeg, it's hard to imagine he gets buried in the depth chart given his current production. In fact, it seems like the opposite is happening, as he's gotten chances with a variety of linemates and seems to have the confidence of the coaching staff in most situations.

Time to appreciate

Over the past few weeks, the Versteeg haters haven't been as vocal, for all the reasons explained above. However, there's still a general current of misguided frustration toward Versteeg at times, as if he should produce like a $5 million player even though he eats up less than half of that in cap space.

Going forward, I just wish that people would start evaluating Versteeg like the $2.2 million cap hit that he is, and appreciate his valuable production as a result. There are a lot of guys in this league taking home similar paychecks to fill similar roles, and almost none of them have produced like the once-frustrating Versteeg.

The old narrative is off the rails. It's time to embrace the talented winger again.