When the Chicago Blackhawks went out and re-acquired Kris Versteeg from the Florida Panthers early on last season, it was season as a major coup for general manager Stan Bowman. A former 20-goal scorer that could add some scoring depth in exchange for a pair of prospects that there was very little room for in Chicago, in addition to the Cats paying half of his salary, seemed like a general fleecing of Dale Tallon in the swap.
However, it didn't take too long for things to do a complete 180 for Versteeg. Although his final numbers on the season weren't completely terrible, his performance deteriorated as the season wore on, to the point where he spent a bit of the postseason in the press box. Throughout the summer, fans have openly campaigned for Versteeg to be the Blackhawk jettisoned in order to get back under the salary cap. That's not to say that he hasn't earned that type of ire, but the question here is: how does he win the fans back?
Some have already written Kris Versteeg off, and have done so completely in stone. There's no winning those folks back. Regardless, most fans are quite forgiving of even the worst stretches of play, especially if they are responded to with brilliance. While nobody is expecting brilliance from Versteeg, some consistency, in a more positive way, is a good place to start for the veteran forward.
With the Blackhawks, Versteeg finished with 29 points in 63 games, with 10 of those points coming from finding the back of the net. Again, not a terrible total, but the Hawks expected more when they surrendered Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen to acquire him. It isn't necessarily what happens on the stat sheet that represents the more frustrating aspects of Kris Versteeg. It's what transpires on the ice that doesn't necessarily show up in a standard box score.
You don't need a box score or possession charts to examine and determine what plagues Versteeg. It's obvious. He shoots when he should pass, and he passes when he should shoot. He dumps the puck into the zone rather than carrying it over the opposing blue line and maintaining possession. He overhandles the puck, often leading to turnovers. The good news is that every bit of these issues is something fixable within Versteeg's game. Another important thing to consider is that he wasn't entirely healthy throughout much of last year. More specifically, he spent last summer rehabbing and never had a chance to get completely up to speed, leading to his fading at the end of the year.
That latter fact should provide a little piece of mind for Blackhawks fans who are dreading seeing no. 23 suit up again for the Hawks in 2014-15. If he can work on fixing some of those flaws in his game, particularly his penchant for dumping the puck and just playing a smarter overall game, then he's valuable. He's already a good guy in the locker room. Turning things around after a dismal postseason performance should make him a very valuable member of the bottom six.
It's a simple formula to follow, but whether or not it will be done really remains to be seen. Until then, Versteeg will continue to serve as the whipping boy, a spot vacated by Brandon Bollig until he was shot off into Alberta.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.