Blackhawks acquire Versteeg from Panthers for prospects

Rory Boylen

Florida GM Dale Tallon said the firing of coach Kevin Dineen last week was “the first of many changes we’re making.” He wasn’t kidding. The Panthers traded the struggling Kris Versteeg and prospect Philippe Lefebvre to the Chicago Blackhawks late Thursday night. In return the Panthers picked up prospects Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen. This rebuild, ahem, retool will seriously work this time guys. Seriously.

Half of Versteeg’s $4.4 million cap hit will be eaten by the Panthers through the deal’s conclusion in 2015-16.

After losing Stephen Weiss and Jason Garrison to unrestricted free agency in back-to-back summers, three-fifths of Florida’s top unit from its first playoff team in 12 years is now gone. So too, of course, is the coach.

The Panthers did what the Panthers do in this trade – look longingly to an elusive bright future.

In Hayes, Florida gets a 2008 second round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 6-foot-6, 221-pound winger turned pro out of the NCAA at the tail end of the 2010-11 season and was a 25-goal scorer in the AHL last year. Olsen, a defenseman, was selected 28th overall by Chicago in 2009 and is also a big body at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds. He adds to a growing depth of promise on the Panthers blueline.

The Blackhawks reacquire Versteeg three years after the salary cap forced the team to trade him out post-Stanley Cup. He had a career-best 23 goals in Florida’s magical run to the first round of the playoffs in 2012 and, still only 27 years old, could get back to that high again with a strong cast. He’ll help make up for the loss of Michal Handzus to injury and will be another weapon for the Hawks – one who has already won a Cup in Chicago.

And you just can’t say enough about depth.