Carolina Hurricanes forward Kris Versteeg had some familiar faces in town Monday.
Brady Hway and Sean Erlendson are two buddies from Versteeg’s Canadian hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta, and have been in Raleigh a few days. As a teenager, Versteeg once helped them win the Alberta Ball Hockey Association Provincials.
Other friends arrived later Monday – Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, to name a few. Versteeg helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2010 and again last season.
The Hurricanes host the Blackhawks on Tuesday at PNC Arena in their final game before the NHL All-Star Game break. Carolina was a 2-1 winner in the first matchup, Dec. 27 in Chicago, as goaltender Eddie Lack had a season-high 35 saves.
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Versteeg and forward Joakim Nordstorm earned Stanley Cup rings with the Blackhawks last season, sat next to each other in the locker room at the United Center and sang a little Macklemore together at the team’s massive Stanley Cup celebration in Chicago’s Soldier Field. Both expected to help the ‘Hawks defend their title, perhaps add another ring this season.
But the Blackhawks, in a salary-cap squeeze, traded the two to the Hurricanes on Sept. 11, just before the start of training camp. Just like that, they had a new team, new coach and new surroundings.
“I wouldn’t say I was caught completely off-guard,” Versteeg said Monday. “There is a little shock to it when you go somewhere else and have to learn a new system. You don’t want it to happen but when it does you want to be able to contribute to whatever organization you’re with and give your best.”
If they want me and feel I can contribute to the team and have helped them enough, I definitely would like to be here. But in the end it’s a business and you find out when the time comes.
Canes forward Kris Versteeg
The Canes have no complaints. Versteeg, 29, is playing on the top line with Eric Staal and Phil Di Giuseppe and is used on the power play. Nordstrom, 23, has joined center Jordan Staal and forward Andrej Nestrasil in forming a strong shutdown line while also being a speedy, effective penalty killer for Carolina.
Versteeg had two goals Sunday in the Canes’ 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames, earning the Fireman’s Helmet as team MVP. Versteeg’s second goal, soon followed by Nordstrom’s score, came after the Flames had pulled within 3-2 in the third period.
“Steeger makes a lot of plays, a lot of the little plays in the offensive zone that some guys in the league and on our team can’t make,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday. “Lot of poise and patience with the puck. And Nordy is an up-and-coming guy, in my opinion. He works hard and he’s a bit of student of the game. He competes. He fits the DNA of what we foresee as a Hurricane moving forward.”
Versteeg was a healthy scratch after the Canes’ dismal loss to the New Jersey Devils in early December. The veteran wasn’t the only one who played poorly that night but Peters used the move as a message to everyone that weak efforts wouldn’t be tolerated.
Versteeg has been at his best in recent games. He has five goals and three assists in the past nine games, giving him 10 goals and 20 assists in 49 games, and his between-the-legs score against the Washington Capitals may have been the Canes’ best offensive move of the season.
“He’s got some swagger,” Peters said. “He’s won a couple of Cups, he’s been around, made some money. So he’s in a good spot in his life. Married now, has a little one. I think for him he’s in a real good situation. Coach plays him. Coach likes him.”
Versteeg, who has a $4.7 million salary, is in the final year of his contract and due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He’s another player general manager Ron Francis must make a decision on as the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline approaches.
“If it happens I would not be shocked,” Versteeg said. “At the same time, I’ve really enjoyed my time in Carolina and I’d really like to be part of this young team and help them win.
“That obviously is up to management. If they want me and feel I can contribute to the team and have helped them enough, I definitely would like to be here. But in the end it’s a business and you find out when the time comes.”
Versteeg spent his “Day with the Cup” last summer in Lethbridge. There was a big gathering and Hway served as D.J. and it was about 6 a.m. before it wound down.
“I think I made it to 3 or 4,” Versteeg said, smiling. “I don’t remember much after that.”