NHL

Kris Versteeg: Forever a Blackhawk

Kris Versteeg accomplished just about all you can during his
11-year NHL career. He won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks,
scored in three different outdoor games, wore some of the most historic sweaters
in hockey history and rapped in front of thousands of fans at a victory rally.

While he wasn’t the most talented player of those
Championship teams in Chicago, he will go down as one of this Blackhawks fan’s
all-time favorites. The veteran winger decided to call it a career this week
and I will miss him.

Versteeg and his Teammates Represented Change

Jan. 1, 2009 was a historic and very important date for the
Blackhawks and the state of hockey within the city of Chicago. After years of
being an afterthought in town because of awful teams and no home games on television,
the Blackhawks were taking to the ice at Wrigley Field. Their oldest rivals,
the Detroit Red Wings, were there to be part of just the second-ever Winter
Classic. This was the moment that the Blackhawks had officially resurrected
from the dead.

Sitting in the upper deck, trying to stay warm, I was amazed
by all the Blackhawks sweaters filling the stands of the storied ballpark. Just
24 hours before, I had to go to three different retail stores in Chicago just
to find a Blackhawks winter hat to wear for the day.

As I sat there, looking around, I realized it was time for me to get a new Blackhawks sweater. This team was going to be good for a long time and it was full of likable, young players. It was hard not to see the trend of who the most popular players were with all the numbers 19 and 88s being displayed. Since I have never been one to follow the herd, so to speak, I decided I would buy the jersey of the first Blackhawk who scored that afternoon. And so, my man-crush on Versteeg began at the 3:24 mark of the first period.

The Red Wings ended up winning that afternoon, but it did
not spoil the feelings of hope and excitement that filled the air. For the
first time in over a decade, there was a sense of pride when it came to being a
fan of this hockey team.

The 2008-09 season ended at the hands of those hated Red
Wings in the Western Conference Finals. Versteeg finished his rookie season
with 22 goals and 53 points, which was good enough to finish third behind Steve
Mason and Bobby Ryan in the voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy.

The following season, Versteeg scored another 20 goals in the regular season before scoring six goals and 14 points during the Blackhawks’ run to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Unfortunately, Versteeg became one of many salary-cap casualties just a few days after a victory parade in downtown Chicago.

On June 30, 2010, Versteeg was traded to the Toronto Maple
Leafs, along with Bill Sweatt for Viktor Stalberg, Chris Didomenico and
Phillipe Paradis. He didn’t even spend the full season with the Maple Leafs as
they moved him to the Philadelphia Flyers, the team Versteeg helped beat in the
2010 Stanley Cup Final, at the trade deadline for a pair of draft picks. Versteeg
was traded again to the Florida Panthers the following summer. He missed the majority
of the lockout-shortened season of 2013 due to a chest and knee injury.

A Second Stint Brings Another Cup

On Nov. 14, 2013, Versteeg was on his way back to Chicago
after being acquired from the Panthers for Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen.

My phone blew up shortly after the trade as my friends and family knew how much I liked Versteeg. I was able to go back into my closet and pull out my number 32 Versteeg sweater with the 2010 Stanley Cup Final patch hand-stitched on it and wear it again. Versteeg wore number 23 in his second stint with the Blackhawks, so wearing his original number was like busting out an old Metallica t-shirt you got during the “Ride the Lightning” tour before they became huge. There was street cred in that sweater.

Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks (Icon SMI)

Versteeg had great success during the 2014-15 season being on a line with Patrick Kane and veteran center Brad Richards. His season was derailed a bit when he suffered a broken hand during the 2015 Winter Classic versus the Washington Capitals. He was never able to have quite the same success when he returned from injury five weeks later. He did dress for 12 of the Blackhawks playoff games and got his name on the Stanley Cup for the second time in five years.

Related: Blackhawks’ Best Trades of All-Time

The Blackhawks traded Versteeg shortly after a Stanley Cup
win for the second time in his career. This time he was moved to the Carolina
Hurricanes, who traded him to the Los Angeles Kings at the following trade
deadline. In the summer of 2016, he signed with the Calgary Flames. Versteeg had
15 goals and 37 points in 69 games in his first season with the Flames. Injuries
limited him to just 24 games the following season, his last in the NHL.

After not being able to secure an NHL contract in the summer
of 2018, the veteran went overseas and split the season between the KHL in
Russia and the Swedish Hockey League.

The Third Time was Not the Charm

Just a couple of weeks after the Rockford IceHogs finished up
their season last April, they announced that they were bringing Versteeg
into the fold for the 2019-20 season
. This was the perfect storm for the
now 32-year-old winger. He could return to the organization he had his greatest
success with and provide some veteran leadership to a young group of Blackhawks
prospects.

Things went well for Versteeg to start off. He looked fast and healthy during his preseason appearances for the Blackhawks. He was named the captain of the IceHogs just before the season started and was ready for his first game in Rockford since the 2007-08 season when he scored 18 goals and 49 points.

Nagging injuries have slowed Versteeg over the past few seasons and they became a problem after just four games this season. He returned to the ice for a pair of games on Nov. 8 and 10 after missing about three weeks of action. Those would be his final two games as the team announced last Sunday that they have mutually agreed to terminate his contract. According to IceHogs general manager Mark Bernard, it was Versteeg who first brought it up.

Versteeg penned a very emotional statement that included the
story of finding out that he was traded by the Boston Bruins to the Blackhawks
and how his life was forever changed because of it.

“What I didn’t know at that moment, is that I was being
traded to an organization that would not only give me my first chance, but my
second and final chance. I would like to give thanks and show my sincere
gratitude to John McDonough, Stan Bowman, Mark Bernard, Al MacIsaac, Jay Blunk,
Derek King, Anders Sorensen, the IceHogs staff and of course Rocky Wirtz and
the entire Wirtz Family. You brought me in that day and gave me a new home.
This organization gave me everything that I have today, and for this I am
grateful. I, as well, would like to thank all members of the Blackhawks/IceHogs
organization from top to bottom, and most importantly… the great fans of
Chicago and Rockford.

Little did I know that day when I saw Scott write CHICAGO on
that piece of paper that this word would forever be written all over my heart,
and soul.”

It appears that Father Time has caught up with Versteeg to keep his undefeated record intact. No matter what he decides to do from here, he will do it like he has done everything else in his career; at full speed.

While Versteeg was not the most talented player of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks team, he perfectly embodied the spirit and attitude of that locker room. They were a group that was young, fearless and had no idea how good they were. Versteeg would make you pull your hair out by skating alone into four defenders instead of just dumping the puck in. That was his mindset, that was that team’s mindset. They skated into the storm because they believed they would come out on the other side unscathed….and sometimes they did.

Kris Versteeg Chicago Blackhawks
Versteeg enjoys his moment with Lord Stanley. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Thank you for all the memories, Steeger!


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