Speculation regarding Kris Versteeg’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization came in to question Saturday night, when CBC insider Pierre Lebrun reported during the second intermission that Leafs management had received a “hard offer” for the young forward that forced them to strongly consider pulling the trigger.
Brian Burke declined the rumoured offer, but he has told other teams what was included in the initial trade proposal to determine the level of interest and market value for a player of his ilk. He is also putting feelers out to see if another team will exceed the shot-down deal and sweeten the pot.
Burke told members of the Toronto media on Sunday that “We’re not shopping him.” But that doesn’t mean that other teams aren’t interested.
It is believed that the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers have also expressed their interest in acquiring Versteeg, according to ESPN. Both teams are looking to upgrade their offense in hopes of gaining ground in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Thrashers currently sit in sixth Eastern conference with 48 points in 42 games, while the Panthers are only five games back with 38 points.
Atlanta and Florida have something very interesting in common, which could further propel rumors that Versteeg could be headed to either city. Both teams are managed by former Chicago Blackhawks executives, where Versteeg played last year.
Dale Tallon — the former Blackhawks GM holding the same position in Florida now — brought Versteeg to Chicago in a 2007 trade with the Boston Bruins. He gave him an opportunity to play in the NHL, after leading the Providence Bruins — Boston’s AHL affiliate — in scoring a year earlier.
Tallon has seen his progression from a one-time AHLer, all the way to a bona fide top six forward and Stanley Cup champion. The Panthers have some intriguing assets that could be offered up to Toronto, including the likes of David Booth and Toronto native Stephen Weiss. Considering the Leafs are seeking a number one centre, Weiss is a potential candidate to fit the bill. Weiss has more potential than Versteeg, so the Leafs would likely have to include one of their high end defensive prospects from the Toronto Marlies to make a deal happen.
On the other hand, the Thrashers have more pieces in play, which could interest the Leafs, including Niclas Bergfors, who has been on the trade block for several weeks.
Versteeg, who has 23 points in his past 26 games, is not likely to be traded by the Leafs. Although Burke has let it be known that he is open for business and willing to accept an offer if it blows him away. Versteeg is a very skilled, versatile winger who can inject offensive into a contending team.
With a cap hit of only $3.08 million, there are at least a dozen teams who are lining up for Versteeg. If the right price comes across Burke’s desk, the Leafs will pull the trigger and help restock the cupboard with prospects who can compete for roster spots down the road. If that doesn’t occur, he will be an integral role in the Leafs mix of top six forwards during the rebuilding process.