You never want to make a trade in which team observers are left wondering if the outgoing player had asked to leave. Yet that is precisely the thought I keep returning to upon learning of Kris Versteeg’s trade to Philadelphia in exchange for their first- and third-round selections in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
Why else do you give up on a young forward after just 53 games when it isn’t as though he had played far below expectations? Versteeg may not have had huge upside moving forward, but it’s hard to justify jettisoning a gritty player that would have offered 50+ point seasons for the foreseeable future.
Let’s look at the facts:
- Brian Burke surrendered three young players for a 24-year old winger who was performing right in line with his output over the rest of his NHL career (0.66 PPG in 53 games with the Leafs, compared to 0.59 in 170 games with Chicago), hardly numbers to suggest he’s been a massive disappointment.
- It isn’t exactly like Philadelphia’s first rounder carries huge value. They currently sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Vancouver Canucks in the league standings.
- Versteeg’s name was popping up in trade talk before the Flyers’ deal came to fruition, suggesting that this isn’t simply a matter of having to give up something of value to get something and, instead, a clear shedding of a player deemed (for whatever reason) a poor fit.
- And then there’s Versteeg, himself, whose Toronto tenure has been marred with line flip-flopping from the top trio all the way to the fourth line and plenty of pressure from the Maple Leafs’ faithful (he even had his car vandalized in January). His post-trade quote – “Right away I was extremely excited to join [the Flyers]” – hardly pointed to a guy devastated to be leaving Toronto.
Maybe this will all make sense in the end as being part of a bigger picture. Maybe the third-rounder is turned around and shipped out alongside, say, Tomas Kaberle (who has reportedly waived his no-trade clause) for top draft picks or young offensive players. Burke has, after all, reportedly been kicking the tires on plenty of young talent, including Jack Skille, David Booth and James Van Riemsdyk, in recent days.
Or maybe the Leafs GM opts to continue collecting draft picks in anticipation of making a major splash at the 2011 Draft. Burke continues to face questions over why he’s abandoned – particularly through the Phil Kessel trade – his build-through-the-draft approach that helped him earn a Stanley Cup in Anaheim.
The problem, however, is that this is a clear about-face from Burke’s approach in acquiring Versteeg – that is, giving up several young pieces to get a supposed future building block. Now, if you match the Flyers’ former first round choice with Philippe Paradis, the late first rounder who went to Chicago in the summer, you are basically left with the Leafs coughing up Viktor Stalberg and Chris DiDomenico for a third-round pick.
If this is a situation of a player wanting out, then Burke did well to act quickly and get a pair of useful draft picks. If not, then the question remains of why Versteeg was available in the first place.
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Written by Ben Fisher