Wow! Talk about a thrilling Thursday! First our beloved Blackhawks beat the Phoenix Coyotes in a 2-1 shoot-out after peppering Yotes goalie Mike Smith with a kitchen-sink-estque 50-plus shots (side note: Pirri continues his season shine – netting the tieing and game-winning goals), and then before the Zambonis could hit the ice, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman announces that former member of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, Kris Versteeg will be returning to Chicago to once more don red, white, and black before the screaming Madhouse on Madison crowd. TV hasn’t yielded such back-to-back entertainment on a Thursday night since the Office and 30 Rock left the air!
Now that the snow spray has settled somewhat, let’s take a moment to dissect this out-of-left field transaction and what the ramifications will be for the Blackhawks going forward.
First and foremost, welcome back Steeger! Needless to say, any member of the Cup-drought-killing 2010 Chicago Blackhawks has earned a permanent spot in any Windy City denizen’s heart. Nostalgia aside, given the way the Hawks have started their season, Versteeg is an ideal acquisition for numerous reasons.
For starters, the Hawks certainly haven’t lost personnel in the wake of their recent Cup victory to the degree they did in the 2010 roster purge that sent Versteeg packing, but they have lost some notable contributors, the most glaring of which being Michael Frolík, whose absence from the penalty kill has sent the Hawks in an embarrassing free-fall to second worst in the league on the PK. Frolík wasn’t brought to Chicago as a special teams player, but his versatility eventually helped him carve out an integral role on the penalty kill that helped the Hawks win the Cup in 2013. So once again, the Hawks are bringing a utility forward from the Florida Panthers to help mind the gaps. Versteeg may not necessarily become a key component on the penalty kill, but it goes without saying he’ll slice out a niche somewhere that’ll help the Hawks win games going forward.
Which bring me to my next point: Versteeg has got to be a dream pick-up for the Hawk’s coaching staff because he’s a known quantity. He’s familiar with the players, the coaches, the game plans, and the organization’s culture. Requiring minimal time to acclimate, Steeger can hit the ground running for the Hawks.
Speaking of which, Versteeg’s stride will certainly be one to watch this time around, as he’s coming back to the Blackhawks as a better player than when he left. At the robust age of 27, Steeger has played on the top lines for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, and Florida Panthers. With the top two lines all but secured for the Hawks, Versteeg will be anchoring the bottom two lines yet again, but this time around he has a whole new wealth of perspective and seasoned knowledge that will no doubt positively influence his fellow 3rd and 4th liners, most of who have never cracked the top two lines for extended periods of time. Furthermore it’s a safe bet that Versteeg’s veteran presence and determined grittiness will elevate the gameplay Hawks fledglings, such as Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin, looking to make a name for themselves, so be sure to keep an eye on the Chicago-Rockford loop.
Kris Versteeg’s arrival back in Chi-town is welcomed, but certainly raises a few other questions about the roster. Steeger being placed on the roster resulted in Michal Handzus and Michael Kostka being placed on the IR, indicating that it’s all but certain they’ve played their last game as Chicago Blackhawks. The Kostka IR move is a bit more intriguing, considering that the Hawks defensive ranks aren’t in the best condition. With Sheldon Brookbank, Michael Rozsival, and Johnny Oduya all on the wrong side of 30, one has to wonder how much longer of a shelf life they have, and these thinning ranks are already beginning to show on the scoreboard, i.e. the five goals the Hawks surrendered to the Coyotes last night. So you’d think if any acquisition was to be made, it’d be for another D-man. To that effect, GM Stan Bowman made some intriguing comments about the depth the Hawks have at the blue-line at his press conference last night, making specific references to Rockford IceHogs defensemen Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, and Viktor Svendberg. So it seems one of these young blue-liners may be suiting up at the United Center in the near future.
Sticking on the defensive side of ice, given the flux status of the Blackhawks back-up goalie situation, another acquisition you’d have expected would be for another back-up net-minder. Current back-up Nikolai Khabibulin has been horrible, and has been buried so deep in Head Coach Joel Quenneville’s doghouse you’d expect to see him wearing a collar. Corey Crawford has been between the pipes in all but two games this season, and needless to say, this trend cannot continue, especially with the circus trip around the corner. While there has been little to no updates regarding the goalie situation, Kris Versteeg’s arrival definitely gives an already potent Hawks offense even more fire power. This takes pressure off the defensive end, making it easier to either a.) grit and bare it with the Bulin Fall, or b.) give an up and coming goalie like Antti Raanta a chance to spread his wings. Stay tuned on this front…
All in all, it’s great to have Kris Versteeg back in the line-up, and here’s hoping he’ll serenade us yet again on a championship parade stage this summer. Good luck Steeger!
FOR THE DAGGER!