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Versteeg agrees to four-year deal with Panthers

by John Kreiser

Kris Versteeg can finally look forward to spending some time in the same place.

The 26-year-old forward, who went from Chicago to Toronto to Philadelphia to Florida in the space of a year after winning the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, has agreed to a four-year deal worth $17.6 million with the Panthers.

"It's been a bit of a whirl for the last two years," he said Monday during a media conference call. "Security was the No. 1 thing for me, and playing in Florida was the No. 1 thing for me. It all came down to wanting to be in Florida -- I've loved my time here and I'm excited to get going again and try to win the Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers."

The deal enabled the two sides to avoid an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday.

Kris Versteeg
Kris Versteeg
Right Wing - FLA
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 54
SOG: 181 | +/-: 4
"Sometimes you have to keep negotiating right to the bitter end," general manager Dale Tallon said during a conference call when asked about the arbitration process. "It happens a lot -- you really don't want to go to arbitration, and we decided we didn’t want to. It made sense for both sides."

Versteeg said, "I think we both got a fair deal and we're both excited about what the future of the franchise can be. I was confident we were going to get something done."

Versteeg, who was acquired by Florida from Philadelphia on July 1, 2011, is coming off the best season of his career, scoring 23 goals and adding 31 assists for 54 points in 71 games to help the Panthers win the first division title in franchise history. He had his first career hat trick in November and was part of Florida's top line along with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.

"I loved playing with those guys," Versteeg said. "They made me a better player."

Tallon is optimistic that Versteeg has further room for improvement.

"He had a career year last year despite some nagging little injuries. His ceiling is quite high," Tallon said. "He's got a lot of opportunities to get better. I think he's got a lot of upside based on his ability and skill and desire. He wants to stay here and be with us and see this thing develop into a Stanley Cup contender."

Versteeg had three goals and five points in Florida's seven Stanley Cup Playoff games -- the Panthers lost their opening-round series to the New Jersey Devils. He is coming off hip surgery to correct a problem that bothered him for much of the season, but Tallon said he's "100 percent" going into the new season. Versteeg said he expects to be back on the ice in mid-August and will be ready for training camp in September.

Tallon, who acquired Versteeg last summer, originally brought him to Chicago in 2007 when he was GM of the Hawks. Versteeg became a regular for the Blackhawks the following season and helped them end a 49-year Stanley Cup drought in 2010. Versteeg was moved to Toronto following Chicago’s championship run mostly due to financial reasons -- but after 14 goals and 21 assists in 53 games for the Leafs, he was traded to Philadelphia, where he had seven goals and 11 points in 27 games.

Versteeg had said during the season that he hoped to remain with Florida, and Tallon said that played into the team's desire to make a long-term commitment.

"We want people who want to be Panthers," he said. "It's very important to us. We don't want to sign people to long-term deals who are iffy about being here or whether they want to be Florida Panthers. All along, he said he wanted to be here for a long time. That's a real positive."

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