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Monday, February 14, 2011
How much do 2010 playoffs factor into the Kris Versteeg deal?

By Scott Burnside

As we digested the latest pre-trade deadline deal -- Toronto traded Kris Versteeg to Philadelphia for two 2011 draft picks -- we couldn't help but think how the Stanley Cup playoffs make for lasting impressions.

If you assess Versteeg in a vacuum, he is an interesting third-year player who has 20-30 goal potential depending on the situation but who ultimately couldn't answer the bell as a top-six forward with the Maple Leafs.

Versteeg was a Calder Memorial Trophy nominee for rookie of the year two seasons ago and now is with his third team (although the moves from Chicago to Toronto this past offseason and now to Philadelphia are as much about circumstance as anything else).

Kris Versteeg
The Maple Leafs traded Kris Versteeg to the Flyers on Monday for two 2011 draft picks.

But was Versteeg, 24, worth a first-round pick and a third-round pick in this June's draft?

More to the point, if Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren and the Flyers hadn't watched Versteeg up close in last season's Stanley Cup finals, would they have wagered two draft picks on Versteeg?

Would Holmgren, fast establishing himself as one of the NHL's most decisive, gutsy GMs, have made this deal if he hadn't seen Versteeg score three points in Game 5 of the Cup finals after collecting two points in Game 1?

Would he have made the deal if he hadn't had to watch Versteeg end up holding the Stanley Cup over his head on Holmgren's home rink after Game 6?

Does that memory skew Versteeg's value? Maybe.

We recall listening to San Jose GM Doug Wilson talk about the Sharks' acquisition of Versteeg's former teammate, netminder Antti Niemi. He cited Dave Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien and Niemi as the catalysts to the Blackhawks' four-game sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference finals last spring. Wilson seemed extremely pleased Niemi was a Shark and not a Blackhawk, even though Wilson already had signed another netminder, Antero Niittymaki.

Was Niemi's true value to the Sharks skewed by having watched him allow just seven goals in that series? Maybe.

In both cases, the answers to these questions won't be known for many weeks. If the Flyers and Sharks end up in the Cup finals in late May, we'll know Wilson's and Holmgren's memories were accurate barometers of talent. Versteeg makes an already formidable Flyers lineup even more dangerous, and he won't hurt the Flyers' curiously uneven power play, given that he played the point some with the Leafs' power-play unit.

Toronto GM Brian Burke said he thinks Versteeg will thrive given the depth of talent in Philadelphia.

"I'm not disappointed in Kris," Burke said Monday night on a conference call. "In my mind, it wasn't happening for him here."

Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette agreed.

"He's a tenacious guy that does a lot of things well. He can kill penalties, play on the power play, he can play on the top line, play on the checking line," Laviolette said in a conference call from Tampa, where the Flyers are set to take on the Lightning on Tuesday night. "I think he's done a little bit of everything. If you look at our lineup and the way it runs, we're not really comprised of a first line. It's more we're built by numbers. I really just think he can come in and provide some more depth to that."

It was not surprising that two of the teams most interested in Versteeg were the Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers, sources told ESPN.com. Both GMs, Florida's Dale Tallon and Atlanta's Rick Dudley, have strong ties to Chicago but were not willing to go as far as Philadelphia in giving up a pair of draft picks.

Burke said Monday night the Flyers' offer was the best of "multiple" offers he had for Versteeg.

As for the Leafs, it was an interesting move for a team that already had been active on the trade front. And Burke isn't done. He said the third-round pick is already in play and he'd like to bring in a player who can play now or is close. Burke also said he is not against moving the first-round pick, either, if the package is right. But having the Flyers' first-round pick will somewhat soften the blow of having to give up the team's past two first-round picks to Boston in the Phil Kessel deal.

Although he wouldn't discuss the situation with defenseman Tomas Kaberle, it's believed the defenseman has agreed to waive his no-trade clause; given that Burke likes to get out ahead of the trade-deadline curve, another move in the short term isn't out of the question.

Versteeg became expendable after the Leafs acquired Joffrey Lupul, a deal that saw the Leafs move veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim last week.