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Versteeg returns to Blackhawks in trade from Panthers

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks had to send Kris Versteeg away not long after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup because of salary-cap concerns. Three years later, they're bringing him back.

The Blackhawks acquired Versteeg from the Florida Panthers on Thursday night in exchange for forward Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen. They announced the trade minutes after a 5-4 shootout victory against the Phoenix Coyotes at United Center.

As part of the trade the Panthers are retaining half of Versteeg's salary, which according to will come out to $2.2 million cap hit for Chicago.

"We're really excited," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "Looking at our team this year, we're off to a really good start. I think we've come out of the gates the way we wanted to, [but] we're always trying to improve. I think just the experience and versatility he brings to the table [are key], on top of the fact that he's a player our coaches know well and our players are familiar with. He has a lot of energy and competitiveness and he's got great skill level to complement our players, so we think it's a great fit."

Versteeg, 27, has two goals and seven points in 18 games this season with the Panthers. The Lethbridge, Alberta, native has 92 goals and 212 points in 349 regular-season games with Chicago, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and the Panthers. He had 44 goals and 101 points in 170 games with Chicago from 2007-10 and contributed six goals and 14 points in 22 games during the Blackhawks' championship run in 2010.

Bowman also thinks Versteeg can help on special teams; the Blackhawks are near the bottom of the NHL in penalty-killing. It's one of the few areas of concern thus far in an otherwise impressive start.

"Looking at our team, we felt like adding one more versatile forward to our group [was important]," Bowman said. "Kris, we obviously know him well from his years here and his ability to play a couple different spots for us. He's certainly capable of playing on the top line. He's been doing that the last couple years in Florida, but we have a lot of depth at forward, so we can use Kris in a couple different places."

The Blackhawks' top two lines have been very good of late, especially the top unit of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The third line, however, has a hole at right wing.

That's where former Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg played all of last season before joining the Nashville Predators as a free agent. Stalberg originally came to Chicago in a trade that sent Versteeg to the Maple Leafs following the Blackhawks' championship celebration three years ago.

"We've got a few young guys that are getting better as time goes on here, but bringing a player back who's been with us and understands what it takes, obviously, he's been through the grind of a playoff," Bowman said. "He understands the sacrifices you have to make as a player and I think he really has taken on a different role since he left here. He's been a top line guy in the couple places he's played. Here he has the ability to move around in our lineup. That flexibility gives the coaching staff a lot of options."

Chicago, which sent rookies Jeremy Morin and Alex Broadhurst to the minors after the game, also acquired minor-league forward Philippe Lefebrve from the Panthers. Lefebrve will report to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Lefebrve, 22, has recorded two goals and six points in eight games this season with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones.

Versteeg will be at practice Friday morning.

Hayes, 23, has six goals and 13 points in 43 NHL games with the Blackhawks, as well as 35 goals and 76 points in 120 American Hockey League games with the Rockford IceHogs. Olsen, 22, has appeared in 28 games with the Blackhawks, earning one assist. He has six goals and 30 points in 152 games with the IceHogs.

Hayes was a second-round pick (No. 60) by the Maple Leafs in 2008. Olsen was Chicago's first-round selection (No. 28) in the 2009 NHL Draft.

"We are pleased to welcome both Jimmy and Dylan to the Panthers," Florida GM Dale Tallon said in a statement. "Jimmy is a young, strong, hardworking, versatile forward who brings both size and skill to our team. Dylan, a former first-round draft pick, is a young, solid defenseman who adds further depth to our blue line. We thank Kris for his contributions to the Panthers, including helping us win 2011-12 Southeast Division Championship, and wish him the best of luck in his return to Chicago."

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