What does Kris Versteeg's future in Chicago look like?
With the Blackhawks still needing to take measures in order to free cap space, how could Kris Versteeg's future with the organization shake out?
With much of the hockey world staring at Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks in anticipation of a trade featuring either Patrick Sharp or Bryan Bickell, the GM called an audible and dealt restricted free agent Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's safe to say that many of us are still reeling from it, and it may not get easier when his eventual cap figure comes out upon signing a new deal.
Regardless of how that shakes out, and how the likes of Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano are able to compensate for the loss of Saad, there is still work to be done with the roster as constructed. More cap space needs to be cleared and the blue line needs a bit of shoring up within the realm of whatever financial space Bowman is able to create. As such, guys like Sharp and Bickell appear to still be on the outs.
Then there's Kris Versteeg.
Last summer, it looked like Versteeg was a sure thing to be gone. He had an awful end to the regular season followed by a dismal playoff performance. Much of that was due to the fact that he had spent the previous summer rehabbing a knee injury and simply burned out towards the end. Combine that with the minimal trade value he provided, and it's no real surprise that he was back to start 2014-15.
What might have come as more of a surprise (unless you're like me and widely known as a fervent Versteeg supporter) was his early season performance. He was one of the Hawks' more dominant offensive performers, with 27 points in 33 games at the time of his hand/wrist injury suffered in the Winter Classic. Upon his return, though, he wasn't quite the same.
Versteeg finished the regular season with 34 points in 61 games, giving him just seven points across his final 28 games of the regular season. With a quiet start to the playoffs, and subsequently serving as a healthy scratch in the second and third rounds of the postseason, it looked like more of the same. We never did hear the details of when he sustained the knee injury or other health issues that he mentioned after the season. As he was day-to-day after the Nashville series in Round 1, an injury could be an explanation for his struggles.
But Versteeg was able to work his way back into the lineup for the Stanley Cup Final after the poor performance of Bryan Bickell and fared quite well. He only finished with the one point for the series, but it was the version of Versteeg that shined. He played a nice two-way game, was stronger on the puck, and his decision making had improved, to the point where he was given the belt following Game 5.
Is that enough to save his spot with the Blackhawks, though? The Hawks are strapped for cash and Versteeg carries that $2.2 million cap hit, which is softened by the fact that the Panthers are paying half of his salary. Which is also part of the rationale for keeping him.
If able to unload Bickell and Sharp, the Hawks would undoubtedly hold onto Versteeg, as a veteran presence and a favorite in the locker room. What he could bring to the mix as a two-way winger on that third line, or fourth, could be a tremendous asset. In the simplest terms, put him in a bumslaying role in the bottom six, and you're probably going to like what you see. Putting him up in the top six for a spell wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, either. He's versatile in that respect, as well as in his ability to flip wing spots.
There are plenty of benefits to hanging onto a guy like Versteeg, even with his quirks and flaws. If Bowman chooses to deal him, though, he could find it much easier than it might have been last summer. With the contract and versatility, he could be attractive to a contending team with cap space looking to add some extra depth. After all, that $2.2 million is something that the Blackhawks could find themselves in need of.
It's impossible to tell how this will all shake out, though. It's widely assumed that Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell will be gone, but it also was widely assumed that Brandon Saad would be back. If Sharp and Bickell both find their way out of Chicago, one would imagine Versteeg would remain with the Blackhawks at least through the final year of his contract. But if they are only able to unload one of the forwards, Versteeg could be an easier player to move than one of Sharp or Bickell's much larger deals.
When it comes down to it, the hockey world probably knows where I stand. Where do you stand? Should the Hawks keep Kris Versteeg and allow him to succeed in a bumslaying role, or trade him for what would likely amount to a late round draft pick?
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.