Thursday, July 1, 2010
By Chris Boden
This didn't have anything to do with Kris Versteeg's rapping ability. It was about that 3 million cap hit.
The talented 24-year-old winger was one of those young Blackhawks re-signed in a flurry of new contracts after the paperwork snafu in order to keep them off the market at this time last year. And while Hawks GM Stan Bowman said at last weekend's draft he didn't need to make another trade in order to bring just about everyone back, there was still skepticism as Versteeg's name seemed to remain out there. With Wednesday night's trade, the Hawks are now around 8-9 million below the 59.4 million salary cap, not counting wherever Cristobal Huet's future lies.
Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Andrew Ladd went into Thursday's free agent frenzy as restricted free agents, meaning the Hawks could match any offers they received. Recent history shows that teams rarely go after RFAs, despite a buzz going around the last couple days that Niemi and Hjalmarsson could become exceptions to that trend. Bowman told reporters late Wednesday night he wasn't concerned about anyone blowing the Hawks out of the water with an offer for those two, that they're not going anywhere, and they will remain with the Blackhawks. Whether or not there were (or are) any legs to those rumors, he now has the flexibility to get deals done with them, regardless. Depending on their pricetags, the Hawks GM might now end up making a signing for a "depth guy" or two from the unrestricted pool.
Versteeg will be missed, on and off the ice. His smooth offensive moves and fun personality was another example of talent and temperament so prevalent in that Stanley Cup-winning locker room. Toronto always seemed like a fit, if he had to go. They were desperate for Top-6 scoring and he should continue to blossom there, alongside another guy originally drafted by the Bruins, Phil Kessel.
It would seem like most of the "heavy lifting", roster-wise, for Bowman, is done, as far as clearing sufficient cap space, with the hope of retaining Niemi, Hjalmarsson, and Ladd. He has also re-stocked the farm system, with guys on the cusp - like Viktor Stalberg in this trade, and Jeremy Morin in last week's with Atlanta. He's added depth with the two others in this deal and last week's draft (led by the Hayes brothers). The pipeline's been filled back up with potential teammates down the road for the Toewses, Kanes, Keiths and Hossas. Now it's up to their developmental coaches to draw the best out of those kids and get them NHL-ready.
Three Wednesdays ago: Stanley Cup hysteria. One Wednesday ago: Byfuglien, Sopel, and Eager to Atlanta. This Wednesday: Versteeg to Toronto.
Are we done yet? I'd like to think so.