So it's not likely -- like pretty much every unrestricted free agent dream this summer -- but it's still tempting to fantasize: Could the Islanders sign the suddenly available Kris Versteeg away from the Blackhawks?
Versteeg is a very skilled left wing; the Islanders' depth chart cries out for left wings. Versteeg is very young (23), the Islanders are building with youth. But one of the reasons to build with youth in a salary cap world is that they are cost-controlled and, hopefully, underpaid relative to production. Should he indeed hit the market, as an unrestricted free agent with many suitors, Versteeg would no longer be underpaid -- and he might even be overpaid, given the market's generosity and his rather short track record.
|2008 - Kris Versteeg||78||22||31||53||15||55||6||4||3||0||139||15.8|
A rookie of the year finalist this past season, Versteeg is one of the "Chicago Six" who GM Dale Tallon may have inadvertently made free agents by not delivering their qualifying offers by the CBA-mandated deadline. As of this posting, five have signed with the Hawks anyway, but Versteeg has not -- and you know that the NHLPA, by filing a grievance, is hoping he proceeds as if he's a UFA.
The Hawks are approaching a salary cap bind thanks in part to the addition of Marian Hossa, have more important core youngsters to extend in the coming seasons, and might not have room if Versteeg is indeed declared an unrestricted free agent. For that reason, Second City Hockey thinks he may be as good as gone.
Versteeg had a hot start last year, which kept him in the Calder race all year long. As did mesmerizing hands like these:
Versteeg's cooling off coincided with a move to center -- but the Islanders don't need centers. They need left wings. Versteeg's 22 goals would have led the Islanders last year, and his 52 points would have placed second behind Mark Streit. (Granted, he benefitted from better teammates, etc.) The gang at Second City Hockey were among many surprised by his display of skill -- although his hockey sense raised concerns: Rookie mistakes or inherent flaw? No knock on Blake Comeau, but the Islanders don't need another Blake Comeau at an open-market price.
And that's where our fantasy hits a wall. Fellow "Chicago Six" member Cam Barker, a defenseman, signed a three-year deal for a little over $3 million per season. Versteeg wasn't a third overall pick like Barker, but he's suddenly a productive forward on the rise. Depending on the bidders, it's not hard to picture a price on the open market in the $3 - $4 million range. Worse, a lot of these young kids are quite excited about what they're building in Chicago, one of the league's up-and-coming teams. To leave that situation to go to last year's 30th-place team would take an overwhelming, market-busting offer.
Even throwing Garth Snow's stand-pat stance aside, unless the Blackhawks decide they absolutely cannot fit Versteeg and none of the other top-20 teams in the league see a fit for a scoring left winger, there's pretty much no scenario where Versteeg comes to Long Island. The Islanders wouldn't break form to overpay him, and Versteeg wouldn't have incentive to consider the move without getting overpaid.
Oh well. It was fun to dream.