Patient Panthers landed weary traveler Versteeg in right deal

By Bill Whitehead

When Florida Panthers fans are able to reflect on the moves made in the last month by team general manager Dale Tallon that changed the club’s culture from down-and-outer to hopeful up-and-comer, the one transaction that may stand out the most is the one that wasn’t made in Minnesota.

I remember it clearly because of when and where it was coming down, and the stir it caused. While some folks were busy devising mock drafts for Friday’s first round in St. Paul, many of the players being mocked-up were having lunch the day before with the media at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis before an interview session. A table full, including the eventual first four selections, sat a few spots across the room at the “Top picks” table, while the No. 9 pick (Dougie Hamilton) sat right next to us.

And the deal that suddenly popped in on everyone’s Twitter timeline that had most forgetting about the prospects? Philadephia’s Kris Versteeg and Friday’s No. 8 pick (acquired by the Flyers a few moments earlier from Columbus) going to Florida for the Panthers’ No. 3 choice. Suddenly, that table with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau and Adam Larsson didn’t seem so important, though Sean Couturier — chosen eighth the next day — had also settled in to the group of talented diners.

Fortunately for Florida that deal never happened. That transaction would have meant no Huberdeau, an offensively skilled player who likely won’t break camp with the Cats but has generated enthusiasm. Also, mostly defensemen were chosen around the eighth pick (Florida had little interest at all in Couturier), so it’s possible Tallon would have dealt the pick for more picks. More draft picks instead of top-end talent would have been frustrating, especially after what everyone at BankAtlantic Center had to sit through over last season’s final two months.

Versteeg, however, wasn’t out of Florida’s plans. Tallon made a deal for his former Chicago Blackhawk on July 1, sending a conditional second-round pick in 2012 or 2013 (Florida’s choice) and a third-round pick next year. This was done shortly after the Flyers signed Jaromir Jagr, who will turn 40 next February.

“I was happy,” Versteeg said. “I thought there was a good chance I’d be coming here from Chicago. All the people up there couldn’t speak highly enough of (Dale). It was a great process up there and you can see how he’s rebuilding here. I’m definitely excited about the whole process. This is going to be a lot of fun. Seeing the facilities, you don’t get to see much of what it’s like. But the practice facility is gorgeous and first class, and obviously the BankAtlantic (Center) is too, so this is going to be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Versteeg admitted it was a little frustrating in being traded twice last year. After helping Chicago to a Stanley Cup championship, the 25-year-old was dealt to Toronto. The Maple Leafs sent him to Philadelphia after 53 games and 35 points. Now he hopes to call Sunrise home for years to come.

“I’ve moved around a couple of times, and this is definitely one place where I’d like to have a good season, stay here, and be a Panther for a long time,” said Versteeg, who has posted three straight 20-goal seasons. “It’s definitely in my goals, hopefully in theirs, too. I just hope I can improve on my last year, come here and be strong for the guys, and be a Panther for a long time.

“Obviously, the first time we ran in to cap issues. There’s nothing you can do about it. Me and (Chicago GM) Stan (Bowman) talked at the end of the year, and it sounded like I was going to go. They tried to keep their five or six guys together. I get to Toronto. I don’t know what happened there. It was more that they needed draft picks; they haven’t had any in a while. They got some pretty good picks for myself. And I get to Philly and it’s just clean house again. I heard Scottie Upshall’s interview, and he said you just run in to bad situations with the cap, obviously in the new era. I’m just trying to move on and cement myself in one organization.

“I’d love for it to be here. You have to look at the trades as a positive, as that other teams want you. That’s all you can do. Sometimes it wears on you in the back of your mind, I’m not going to lie to you, but that’s why I want to make it happen here.”

If the Lethbridge, AB, native really wants to endear himself to Panthers fans, he will get a Twitter account and treat followers to his personality, which is really over the top at times. He doesn’t need to go overboard and challenge Florida Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison for most outrageous pro athlete tweeter in South Florida honors, just be himself. Something like this:

The Panthers are fortunate to have Versteeg and even luckier the way they got him; that’s the diagnosis of the deal, but probably has more to do with skill than luck. Maybe in another year, he and Huberdeau will be sporting the red and tearing up the Eastern Conference as teammates rather than playing against each other.

Well played, Mr. Tallon.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL