Putting Down Roots
Kris Versteeg signs long term deal to stay in South Florida.
Kris Versteeg wanted to be a Panther for the foreseeable future. His GM, Dale Tallon wanted the same thing.
Monday it finally came to fruition as the Cats officially inked the winger to a four-year deal just before the two sides were to head to an arbitration hearing in Toronto. That means that the Lethbridge, Alberta native will be able to put down roots for possibly the first time in his professional career.
"It feels pretty good. It's been a bit of a whirlwind the last two years but right now security was the number one thing for me. To play in Florida was a number one thing." said Versteeg after agreeing to a contract over the weekend. "I mean it all came down to wanting to be in Florida and wanting to play here."
Security. It's knowing he'll be in one place for a long time after playing on four different teams in a two year span. That included stops in Chicago, Toronto and Philadelphia before finally being acquired by Tallon last July for draft picks.
"I've known Kris for a while and I know it's important for him to have security and have a place to call home,” said Tallon. “He wants to stay with one franchise and finish his career here.”
For what seemed like a slam dunk kind of deal since the two sides wanted the talented winger in South Florida, it came awfully close to heading to arbitration. But sometimes that's just the nature of the beast.
"It's something that's been talked about for a long time," said Versteeg who has posted at least 20 goals in the last four seasons despite all the moving. "It's funny how long it took to get done but it's two sides that want a fair deal and I think we both got a fair deal."
"Sometimes you keep negotiating until the bitter end. You can see that it happens a lot," said Tallon. "You really don't want to go to arbitration and we decided we really didn't want to. Certainly it made sense for both sides and that's how it goes."
"We're both excited about what the future of the franchise can bring," added Versteeg. "Obviously thanking Cliff and all of the ownership for getting behind them to get this deal done too and I'm excited."
Now that a deal is finally done, Versteeg can focus on building off a great first season with Florida. The 26-year old posted career highs in both goals (23) and points (54) despite playing in just 71 games.
"He's still a young guy," said Tallon. "He had a career year last year despite some nagging little injuries. His ceiling is quite high. He has a lot of opportunities to get better and grow as a player on and off the ice.
"I think he has a tremendous upside based on his ability and his skill, his desire to remain and be a Florida Panther."
And to think that he posted those career highs despite playing through various injuries throughout the campaign. He missed time with a hip injury and played most of the end of the season and the first round against New Jersey not being 100%. Despite that, he recorded five points (three goals) against the Devils as Florida fell in seven games.
"It's obviously there and something that lingers in the back of your mind constantly," said Versteeg of the hip ailment. "You just have to go out and play your game. Near the playoffs we tried to shoot it up to help it out. I felt like near the end of the season I came back and it felt better. Obviously it helped. During the season it definitely gets on your mind but you don't want to say it effects you too much because you're a hockey player and you don't make excuses."
"He's a tough kid and he was in a lot of pain but he still played," said Tallon. "(He) gave it his best and played hard but he's 100% now. We're looking forward to him being healthier than he's ever been."
The winger said that he's right on track in terms of recovery time and figures to hit the ice around mid-August. There he'll be training "pain free" and looking to get stronger and help the Panthers defend their Southeast Division title.
In fact, both the winger and the GM that first acquired the young player back in their Chicago days before doing it again in Florida have high goals for not just the upcoming year but beyond.
"I've loved my time here," said Versteeg. "I'm excited to get going again and try to win a Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers."
"We want people that want to be Panthers. It's very important," said Tallon. "You don't want to sign people to long term deals that are kind of iffy that they don't want to be here or they're doubtful that they want to be Panthers. Kris all along said that he wanted to be here and wants to be here for a long time."
Now with the business all sorted out, the next big question that now looms; where should the winger put down those roots.
"I definitely am going to be looking around. I'm not sure where it's going to be," said Versteeg on where he wants to buy a house in South Florida. "I'm going to come down and talk to my real estate agent about where we're going to look for a house.
"Obviously hopefully it stays standing there for a while."