Kris Versteeg brings the Stanley Cup to Lethbridge, Alberta on Saturday.
Leaf fans are hoping he gets the chance to deliver it to a very different destination.
“A Stanley Cup in Toronto would blow the roof of the city,” he said.
Versteeg arrives as the poster boy for the players Leafs GM Brian Burke wants to bring to the city: he plays bigger than he stands, he can play all three forward positions and, as a Stanley Cup champion, he has been to the mountaintop and played 39 playoff games.
“You’ve got to be mentally ready for the playoffs because anything can happen,” he said. “The change of emotion can come and go so quickly.”
At 24, Versteeg has scored 42 goals over his first two full seasons in the NHL. He lives on the special teams. Despite limited time on the power play, Versteeg has scored 10 power play goals and seven shorthanded markers.
He said he is ready for more ice time.
“Having a bigger role and a few more minutes on the power play may help my production,” he said.
“I do believe I can help produce more.”
Versteeg will make just a shade over $3 million over the next two seasons. VIktor Stalberg comes in at $715,000 and $785,000.
But the old rule about whatever team the better player has wins the deal doesn’t hold as much weight anymore.
The better player is often the cheaper one because his salary leaves room for someone else, someone who may be better.
So Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is suddenly talking about throwing a line into the free agent pond after jettisoning Dustin Byfuglien and now Versteeg to clear up cap space.
In Stalberg, the Hawks got the less expensive player, a 24-year-old with tremendous skating skills, okay hands and a burgeoning understanding of the NHL game. Chris Di Domenico, a very good prospect who showed a lot after coming back from a broken leg (20 points in 11 games for Drummondville in the QMJHL playoffs) and Philippe Paradis, a consistent scorer with Shawinigan in the QMJHL also go to Chicago.
Lost in the buzz of the deal, however, is the prospect coming back. The Leafs now own the rights to Bill Sweatt who wrapped up his fourth year at Colorado College with a 15-goal, 33 point season. He is a superb skater who, if signed, would go the American League and once again incrementally boost the talent pool.