Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Will Versteeg be Burke's Steve Sullivan?

kris versteeg leafs
Well, that was quick. Kris Vertseeg didn’t even manage to last a full season in Toronto. The Leafs shipped him off to the Philadelphia Flyers (who are scary, scary good) for a first and third round pick. Unfortunately, considering the Flyers are so good these might as well be second and fourth round picks.

If you look at this trade as Viktor Stalberg, Phillipe Paradis, and Chris DiDomenico for a first and third round pick it looks pretty good. But that wasn’t the trade. Even I – an eternal Leaf defender – cannot look at it that way.

Burke stated that he traded Kris Versteeg to fix a mistake. Apparently, Kris Versteeg did not fit in Toronto. This is perplexing for multiple reasons.

First, Versteeg is only 24-years-old. I don’t see how you can conclude a player that young isn’t working out in only 53 games. Are we assuming this is Kris Versteeg’s absolute peek? Even if it is, he’s on pace to score 21 goals and 52 points – just shy of his 22 goals and 53 points he scored in his rookie season. That’s pretty decent. Oh, that rookie season was in 2008-2009. This is Kris Versteeg’s third year in the NHL, yet the Leafs are treating him as if he’s a 30-year-old player who hasn’t delivered for multiple seasons.

Was Kris Versteeg everything the Leafs expected? No, probably not. He never really meshed with Kessel and Bozak on the “first” line and eventually settled on the third line after being used in every possible way on the top-6 that even included a brief failed experiment at centre. And once he started playing on the third line he played pretty well, scoring 24 points in 35 games. He did all this while playing against the toughest forwards each night.

On average, Versteeg played 18:55 minutes a night, which was only behind Bozak, Kessel, and Grabovski for forwards. However, his minutes declined as the season wore on.

I guess the Leafs make this trade because Versteeg couldn’t handle the elevated minutes they played him early in the season, but again, he’s 24-years-old. Why give up on him so quickly? Does it mean that he wouldn't eventually be able to play those type of minutes?

Some will point to his contract – one year left at a shade over $3 million – insisting that price is a lot for a third liner and that it does not have enough length to correspond with a rebuild. First, the Leafs are paying Colby Armstrong $3 million (and I have no problem with it) and you can always supplement Versteeg’s even strength minutes with increased time on the power-play and penalty kill. Furthermore, Versteeg is a RFA after next season, meaning the Leafs still control him.

This brings me to my next point: Kris Versteeg was an extremely versatile player. Versteeg blocked more shots than any other Leaf forward, could be used on both the penalty kill and the powerplay, and was capable defensively (his +/- is ugly, but few players on the Leafs can boast otherwise).

To give up on a player this young and with this skill set is perplexing. It’s even crazier to realize that the Senators got a better deal for Mike Fisher – a player six years older, with only 2 more career playoff points in 36 more games, and a career high in points that Versteeg has already matched. The Sens should end up with a 1st round pick probably close to 20 (depending how far the Predators go) and another pick that could end up being in the second round. The Leafs received a pick likely closer to 30 and a third round pick.

What are the odds that the Leafs new first round pick produces a player as good as Versteeg? Even that is a long shot considering this draft class is generally regarded as pretty shallow. Burke better hope his scouts have been working hard.

It doesn’t make sense to trade a player like Kris Versteeg. The only way I can understand this trade is if there were off-ice issues with Versteeg that caused management to sour on him. Maybe there was a rift between Versteeg and Wilson. If that was the reason for this trade then that’s just another point for hating Wilson. I don’t know. It doesn’t really make sense otherwise.

I can't help but think that this will turn out exactly like the decision to waive Steve Sullivan did in the late 1990s. At that time Sullivan was a 25-year-old coming off a season where he scored 40 points in 63 games, yet for some reason was waived by GM Pat Quinn in order for the Leafs to pick up Dmitri Khristich. Of course Khristich was awful and Sullivan flourished in Chicago and Nashville, turning himself into a player who consistently scored 60-70 points (when not on the IR). He even became one of the great video game players when the NHL series still had the turbo button.

I hope Versteeg doesn't turn out to be Burke's Steve Sullivan.

Unfortunately, the Kris Versteeg era in Toronto ended a lot earlier than everyone expected. Hopefully the Aaron Voros era lasts even shorter.


Anonymous said...

I don't see why you would trade Versteeg for anything less than James van Riemsdyk. Not saying that was on the table, although Burke probably tried and was rebuked.

Ted Rigby said...

There was a lot of talk about Versteeg not being comfortable in Toronto, after the car vandalizing incident you can't really blame him. So not sure if he requested a trade, but it seems like he definitely wanted out. I read a quote somewhere in which he was asked what he will miss about Toronto, and he said something along the lines of "some of the guys that I've played with, and that's it". Not exactly a glowing review of his time in the city.

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