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Versteeg green lights new deal to return to Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

After idling at the free-agent intersection a spell, Kris Versteeg can ease his foot onto the gas again.

No need for impatience now.

This green light lasts a year.

"That was my biggest complaint all season, for sure,'' Versteeg, returned to the Flames' fold, is confessing jokily.

"Everything else about the year - everything - I loved. The team. The guys. The city. The organization. The fans. But that light …

"That one damn light.

"Second Ave. and 12th. It's too short. The one way going north/south seems to last forever. Then the East-West way is only 25 seconds. Twenty-five seconds!

"So by the time it goes from green to red again only two cars can get through.

"They wouldn't negotiate (a re-set of) that light with me but I would've been more than happy to have it included."

But surely if one traffic light in a city of thousands of 'em is the only negative of an entire year, then …

"Yeah,'' he teases right back. "I know. Like I told you, I had a blast."

With the chaotic opening of free agency looming Saturday, the Flames have agreed to terms on a one-season extension with their bantamweight bang-for-the-buck right-winger that will pay him $1.75 million.

"I think,'' he says, "both sides are happy.

"I know I am."

This is where his heart is.

This is where his allegiance lies.

A dozen teams displayed initial interest in the 31-year-old in the wake of a renaissance - 15 goals, 37 points, his best output in five campaigns - in first turn outfitted in the Flaming C.

The number of suitors had been whittled to three or down the stretch but, in truth, there was only one partner Versteeg had a hankering to head back out on the dance floor with.

"What do I feel? Relief. Excitement. Happiness. You name it. Everything all in one,'' concedes the Lethbridge boy who unequivocally has proven that you can, after all, go home again.

"You want to know where you're going, where your life is going to be set up, first and foremost. It can be kind of unsettling. Things are happening, it's all kind of crazy, you try to listen to other people but in the end I wanted to be home, to be with the group from last season and to build on a very special season.

"That was always my first choice.

"For me, it was always about being a Flame. Always. About making it work for myself and for them. 

"I wanted Calgary."

Turns out, Calgary wanted him right back.

Versteeg is doubly excited about his return after the team last week added goaltender Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes and tungsten-tough D-man Travis Hamonic by way of the NY Islanders.

"Hearing about those two guys, I just wanted to be back and be a part of it all the more. Even though I wasn't with the Flames at that time, you start thinking 'Geez, he can help here …' or 'That guy can make us better there …'

"After being in Calgary last year, seeing the pieces they're adding to the young base of talent, well, it only made you more excited to see what could happen this season."

A late, largely-unheralded free-agent signing last fall, Versteeg became one of the happy surprises of a year that saw the Flames returned to the playoffs, proving to be immensely popular, wonderfully offbeat and, for some, surprisingly productive.

"Off the ice,'' he repeats, "it was my favourite year of my career. When I was younger and living in big cities like Chicago, that was amazing.

"But having a family of my own now, my parents being near, my grandparents, too … you can't put a value on that. My brother (Bryce) will be working now in Calgary, too. Being around my nephews.

"Special. Just so special.

"Being away from the rink for me, for everyone, is a big part of my on-ice. The happier, the more comfortable you are off the ice, that trickles into your play."

Which segues nicely into the possibilities of the upcoming season.

"You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself, right?'' says Versteeg. "The first order of business is getting back into the playoffs and that's a feat in itself. But I think with the players they have and the players they continue to add, you like the organization wants to take a step forward. I know the players are dying to take a step forward.

"But first and foremost it's about taking a deep breath, getting back into those playoffs again and from there, anything's possible.

"I'm just so pleased I'm doing it here, with these guys, on this team."

Well, the deal's done.

The intersection is clear.

The light is green.

Full speed ahead.


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