Back in the summer of 2010, Kris Versteeg received a call from Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman informing the winger he had been traded to the Maple Leafs.
During the conversation, Versteeg had a message for Bowman.
“I said, ‘If there’s ever a chance, I would love to come back,’” Versteeg, 27, explained Friday, about 14 hours after that exact thing happened when the Hawks acquired him in a trade with the Panthers, where he landed after splitting the 2010-11 season between the Flyers and Leafs. “I’m really excited about it. I’m still young. I’ve got hopefully a lot of years ahead of me, and hopefully [they’re] as a Blackhawk, because it’s where my heart is.”
Bowman worked a deal with former Hawks GM Dale Tallon late Thursday night that brought Versteeg, a popular and key component of the Hawks’ 2010 Cup championship run, back to Chicago in exchange for prospects Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes. The Hawks also received prospect Philippe Lefebvre in the exchange, as well as an agreement that the Panthers will pay half of Versteeg’s annual $4.4 million salary through the 2015-16 season.
Versteeg arrived in Chicago after getting “about 30 minutes of sleep [Thursday night],” and skated on the Hawks’ third line with Bryan Bickell and center Andrew Shaw during practice.
“I try to fit into whatever lineup I’m in, with whatever role the coach tries to put me in,” said Versteeg, who can play on the power play and penalty kill. “But this is a strong lineup and I’m going to have to compete hard every night for a roster spot and just try to help make this team better in whatever way I can.”
The veteran will make his debut for the Hawks when they face the Predators in Nashville on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. In a twist, Versteeg could be lined up against Preds winger Viktor Stalberg, who came to Chicago from Toronto in the 2010 deal before himself being traded to Nashville after helping the Hawks capture last year’s Stanley Cup.
“I was pretty surprised to see they got [Versteeg] back,” Stalberg said. “I’m sure he’ll be a great fit there. He’s a really good hockey player. He’ll help Chicago out a ton.
“It’s kind of funny that I had to take his spot 3 years ago, and now he’s taking mine back.”
Versteeg admitted it was difficult watching from a distance when the Hawks hoisted the Cup last season.
“It was tough,” Versteeg said. “You’re watching an old team win the Stanley Cup, [and] I’d be lying to say I wasn’t jealous. It’s something I was a part of in 2010, and it was a very special experience for myself, and to see them go through that again, you know you’re very excited for your friends that were on the team and the organization that you did it with in 2010, but obviously you’re a little jealous because you’d like to be there, too, and helping.
“... But now, it’d be very nice to do it again here.”