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Panthers move on without Versteeg

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Change has been afoot with the Florida Panthers. Last week it was replacing their entire coaching staff. Then late Thursday Florida traded forward Kris Versteeg and minor-league forward Philippe Lefebvre to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for prospects Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon had hinted changes could be coming to the roster earlier in the week after coach Kevin Dineen and his staff were let go. His team snapped a nine-game winless skid Tuesday with a 3-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks, but has sandwiched three losing streaks between their four wins this season.

The Panthers will try and put together their first winning streak of the season Friday against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Versteeg was off to a slow start with two goals with five assists in 18 games. He also was a minus-9 and hadn't scored a goal in 11 games, making him expendable for a team that appears ready to get younger.

"Sometimes it's the players that haven't been consistent to this point and you need to change," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said. "His game wasn't consistent, [he wasn't] at the top of his game, he hadn't played well yet this year I don't think, so that's maybe a little bit of it. We know what he's done in the past, he's been a really, really good player and he's a very talented player.

"We're moving forward doing what we think is best for the team."

The trade was a little harder to swallow for veteran defenseman Brian Campbell, who at age 34 is interested in winning now. Whether the trade will allow the Panthers to do that is yet to be seen.

"Dale says he's got a plan so you have to trust him," Campbell said. "You've got to move on. You have no choice. It's disappointing. Kris, we're going to miss him. I've enjoyed playing with him."

The Panthers could see immediate dividends on their return as soon as Friday. Hayes arrived in the Twin Cities Friday morning, though Horachek said he would be a game-time decision.

A big body at 6-foot-6, Hayes has played in two games with the Blackhawks this season and is a plus-1. He’s played in 43 career NHL games dating to 2011-12, scoring six goals and adding seven assists. In 67 games with the Rockford Ice Hogs of the American Hockey League last season he scored 25 goals. He had four goals and eight points in 13 games with Rockford this season.

"He makes [6-4 Nick] Bjugstad look short," Horachek said of Hayes. "We saw him with my last team [AHL San Antonio Rampage] and he's a guy that can get you 25 goals in the minors and for a big man like that, that's a positive thing."

For Minnesota, goaltender Niklas Backstrom will be unavailable Friday after sustaining an upper-body injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday when he was hit high by Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. Kadri was suspended three games by the NHL for the hit.

The Wild called up Johan Gustafsson from the Iowa Wild of the AHL to serve as Josh Harding's backup.

Mikael Granlund, who also took a high hit from Kadri and missed practice Thursday, is expected to play his normal second-line role.

The Wild will be looking to salvage a season split with the Panthers after losing 2-1 in a shootout Oct. 19 in Florida. Minnesota is 8-1-2 since that game at the BB&T Center, taking a league-high 17 points during that stretch.

Here is how the lineups could look Friday:


Scottie Upshall - Aleksander Barkov - Jesse Winchester

Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Fleischmann

Tomas Kopecky - Marcel Goc - Brad Boyes

Sean Bergenheim - Shawn Matthias - Krys Barch

Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Tom Gilbert - Brian Campbell

Mike Mottau - Erik Gudbranson

Tim Thomas

Scott Clemmensen

Scratched: Matt Gilroy, Jimmy Hayes

Injured: Ed Jovanovski (lower body), Scott Gomez (lower body)


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Dany Heatley - Zenon Konopka - Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Josh Harding

Johan Gustafsson

Scratched: Mathew Dumba

Injured: Niklas Backstrom (upper body), Mike Rupp (lower body), Keith Ballard (upper body)

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