November 4, 2010

A Luda-Kris Trade Revisited Four Months Later

By now, everyone is familiar with Kris Versteeg, his apparent ambitions of becoming the next Vanilla ice, his coming out of nowhere to become a premier two-way forward in the league two years ago, his winning a Stanley Cup last spring with the Chicago Blackhawks, and then his trade this past summer to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But, other than Leafs fans, how many people know Viktor Stalberg?

Stalberg is of course the key piece of the trade from the Hawks’ point of view that went to Chicago, along with prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis. The trade was arguably a win for the Leafs, as Versteeg was seen as an up-and-coming clutch forward with loads of untapped potential (as a top-liner and not a rapper).

Prospect Billy Sweatt also went to the Leafs which was just gravy, seeing as Versteeg was able to score 20 goals in back-to-back seasons with Chicago as a mere role player. It stood to reason that Versteeg was capable of much more in Toronto. While the season is still in the early-going, Versteeg’s actually ended up a huge disappointment, hampered not only by back pain, but a team-wide lack of goal-scoring. Add in the fact that Sweatt eventually signed with the Vancouver Canucks, somehow owning more leverage than all other 22-year-old players who have yet to play a game in the NHL put together en route to testing the free-agent market, and the trade has swung quite handily in the Hawks’ direction. 

Between the two NHLers, Stalberg is the one that has relatively thrived in his new surroundings, with four goals and three assists in 14 games. Thanks to a late generous boxscore change from Wednesday night that gave him a goal and an assist, Versteeg now has five points in 11 games.

It’s hard for me to admit, but at the time I labelled those Leafs fans that considered the deal a disaster (for setting back the team’s rebuilding efforts and youth movement) as ignorant. Of course, the fans that did are still ignorant because both Stalberg and Versteeg are each 24 years old, and Versteeg is actually four months younger. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong too.

"Talk about mixed emotions. I just scored, but I'm also going to Toronto."
Those that applauded the move chose not to consider that Versteeg’s success in Chicago was in part due to the Hawks’ depth and how opponents’ top defensive pairings were forced to pay more attention to the team’s bigger threats. They also conveniently forgot that even if you’re blessed with all the ice time in the world on a bad team, you’re still playing for the Leafs. Phil Kessel can score, but, as he proved last year, he can also do it himself. He doesn’t need a wingman... apparently second-rate number-one-center Tyler Bozak will do.

As such, one of two things is clear: either Versteeg isn’t as good as people thought and Stalberg is better... or Chicago is an environment just more conducive to scoring goals for anyone, and Toronto? Not so much, to the point that even an in-his-prime Mats Sundin would have problems maintaining his usual point-per-game pace right now.

As previously mentioned, it’s still early in the season, but as it stands now Versteeg’s career has taken a turn for the worse and he should concentrate his efforts on a second one... singing the blues.

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