Some days, you have to wonder if Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t fantasize about the good ‘ol non-Kris Versteeg days of yore. You get the impression the guy drives him nuts at times, and the past few games he's seemed close to a tipping point.
Wednesday, he got there.
Versteeg was one of the valuable supporting role players that became a part of the forced exodus from Chicago due to salary cap concerns along with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien after they won the 2010 Stanley Cup. With the core of that team remaining and the need to fill in around that great group always a priority, Stan Bowman seemed happy to bring him back years later on a deal friendly to the Hawks (Florida kept salary).
I suspect Quenneville was less pleased.
When they re-acquired him after his three team tour of duty over three years (RED FLAG), Bowman explained that Versteeg is a versatile forward who could help them on their special teams.
He averaged one second of ice per game on the penalty kill this season, and with the forwards the Hawks have, managed only 1:52 a night on the PP (tallying six points).
Bowman believed his versatility meant he could even occasionally be a top line guy, as he’s been on a few teams in the past.
Over 63 regular season games with the Hawks, Versteeg averaged over just 14 minutes a night and generally hung around somewhere in the bottom six.
As much of a “bargain” as he may have seemed, Quenneville didn’t see much use for him when the games were less important in the regular season, and he’s finding him less useful as the stakes rise.
His ice times against the Kings:
Game 1: 11:54
Game 2: 14:30
Game 3: 11:58
Game 4: 9:54
Game 5: 6:48
Yup, Kris Versteeg played 6:48 last night.
He was on the ice for this Jarret Stoll goal:
I mean, if you’re gonna sag all the way down there, you might as well help instead of enjoying your front row seat.
He got back on the ice after Marian Gaborik scored to make it 3-2, played three shifts, then went out for his ninth shift of the night, when the puck went up his wall and he engaged in what should’ve been a battle to get the puck out at the blueline.
Coaches loathe soft play from wingers whose main role in the d-zone is to get the damn puck out of the damn zone. You know you’re going to take contact, you know your job is simple, and he presented all the fortitude that you, the person reading this, would likely have offered. Hell, you might have done better.
That was 31 minutes into a hockey game that went into double overtime, and Versteeg’s blades never touched ice again. 6:48 .
The message is clear. With under seven minutes of ice last night, Chicago will not waste a spot on Kris Versteeg in Game 6. Doesn’t matter if it’s Peter Regin, Joakim Nordstrom or Jeremy Morin, it simply can’t be Versteeg.
You can’t find yourself in an elimination game in the Conference Final with a player who left his chutzpah at home, leaving him nailed to the bench and draining the legs of your top line guys. You need everyone.
Some time in the pressbox will do him good. There’s no doubt in my mind that his offensive ceiling, today, is the highest of the available Blackhawks who could fill that slot in the roster, but the reality is that someone with a lower ceiling who’ll actually play with the pedal down will provide you with more.
Versteeg has been healthy scratched before by Quenneville, and I expect it to happen again. He’s been given a lot of rope during this year’s run to the Cup, but it appears Quenneville’s at the end of his.