The Flames have a number of unrestricted free agents whose contracts are set to expire within a couple of months. Both of their goalies are UFAs, as is roughly half the defence… plus one forward.
It’s the one forward who probably has the best reviews out of the entire class. While Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson disappointed at times throughout the season, and the bottom half of the Flames’ defence was notably much worse than the top half, Kris Versteeg slid right into the Flames’ lineup just a day before the season started, and not once did he ever really pose a problem (other than the occasional injury and games missed earlier in the season).
You had a good year when the worst thing anyone can say about you is “sometimes you were injured and that was unfortunate”.
Versteeg is the one upcoming UFA just about everybody has slated to return to the Flames, and that probably includes the player himself. Versteeg – from Lethbridge – has not only been vocally adamant about staying close to home, but even offered up heartwarming lines about learning to love the game again. There’s a clear desire on his part to stay a Flame.
But a contract is a two-way street. That’s great if Versteeg wants to stay a Flame; the question is, do the Flames want him to stay? The answer had better be yes.
Focus on numbers
Versteeg scored 15 goals and 37 points over 69 games: good for eighth in team scoring. That’s with him averaging just 14:43 a game, which was only 15th on the team; the only notable forwards he received more ice time than were Matthew Tkachuk (rookie) and Micheal Ferland (buried on the fourth line for much of the season for some reason).
It should be pointed out, too, that Versteeg played 175:40 on the powerplay over the season: seventh on the Flames, and fourth out of all Flames forwards (behind Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Troy Brouwer). Versteeg’s 16 powerplay points were tied for second on the team with Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund, and he led everyone with 54 shots on the man advantage. The powerplay setup called for a right shot, and Versteeg was the best one Calgary had available: and he earned every minute he had on the man advantage. His eight goals were tied with Monahan for the team lead.
He scored .54 points per game: tied with Michael Frolik for seventh on the Flames. Almost half of his points came on the powerplay, which is a bit of a red flag; on the other hand, all that for a $950,000 cap hit? That’s awesome.
Therein lies the one possible counterargument to re-signing Versteeg: how much he’ll cost to bring back. He’ll soon be 31, so his best days are likely behind him. Before this season, he carried a cap hit of $4.4 million for four years; kind of fitting, considering how that’s pretty close to Frolik’s current contract and they scored at the exact same rate, though Frolik had a much stronger even strength performance.
Versteeg isn’t going to be re-signed to a Frolik-like deal. Among the players who scored at the same rate he did this season, Tyler Toffoli had the lowest cap hit: $3.25 million, courtesy of a bridge deal.
Versteeg can probably be had for less than that; this may be his last chance at a decent-sized contract, but he also doesn’t have too much to leverage for a big deal (not to mention the hometown discount is a very real possibility with someone whose actual hometown is just a couple of hours south). And this is a player who, while he may not have another 50-point season in him, has consistently hovered around .5 points per game the past several years.
His underlyings weren’t the greatest this season – he actually had the worst 5v5 CF% of any regular forward not named Brouwer or Lance Bouma – but it’s also perhaps worth mentioning that he was Brouwer’s most frequent linemate, and his CF shot up about 8% when they were separated (albeit with higher offensive zone starts), so that may not be entirely on him.
Here’s what it comes down to with Versteeg: are you going to be able to find another forward who can produce – even if roughly half of it comes on the man advantage – at the rate he does for a cap hit that’s probably under $3 million?
No numbers, just narratives
Versteeg is a local boy who wants to stay close to home. Number one, having players who actually want to be here is always a good thing, so that in and of itself is already a point in his favour. Number two, the local kid returning home to help his childhood team – who doesn’t love that story?
Number three, he’s come back after winning two Stanley Cups. There’s a fair amount of emphasis placed on acquiring players who have won before and, therefore, know how to win; Versteeg’s rings alone do a pretty good job of embodying that. He’s played 93 playoff games in his career (sorry, that was a number), so you’d have to think he has a pretty fair idea of what it takes to go deep into the postseason.
It isn’t just winning that makes his presence valuable, though: it’s that he can easily slide in just about anywhere in the lineup. He’s a right shot who can play either wing. His initial linemates were Gaudreau and Monahan, who he could theoretically still fit with; however, towards the end of the season he started building chemistry with Sam Bennett, and that can’t be discounted, especially if the Flames have trouble finding another high-caliber winger. Even then, it’s entirely possible he could end up playing alongside Backlund and Frolik, too; they barely played together this past season, but it’s easy to see those three working out as a cerebral, roughly half-a-point-per-game shutdown line.
Oh, and just to further emphasize this: he’s a right shot, something the lineup last season didn’t have much of. This was especially apparent when Versteeg was injured and Alex Chiasson, also a right shot, replaced him on the powerplay. Versteeg is clearly good on the powerplay; Chiasson, less so. Simply having Versteeg around makes the Flames’ depth much better in multiple situations.
And it’s not something we would have thought – especially since, other than Gaudreau, he’s the smallest player on the team – but he’ll fight, too.
No matter how you look at it, there’s really no reason to not want him back – and once the expansion draft is over, hopefully, his return will be made official.
I mean you gotta admire a man who has literally no shame whatsoever. Not to mention just how easy it is to find any video of him rapping. I’m not sure what value that has but it’s gotta be something.