Kris Versteeg joined the Rockford IceHogs on an AHL contract in late-April of 2018. His return to the IceHogs and Chicago Blackhawks organizations brought back a lot of memories and hope for Versteeg to rejuvenate his playing career after nearly retiring. After playing in six games and re-aggravating a hip injury, Versteeg and the IceHogs agreed to terminate his deal and part ways Sunday morning.
Versteeg, IceHogs mutually terminate AHL contract
When he re-joined the Blackhawks organization for the third time in his career, Versteeg, 33, was facing a new chapter in his playing career. No longer fighting for a spot on a NHL roster, he was named captain of a young Rockford IceHogs team and thrust into the role of a mentor to the Chicago prospect system.
Versteeg played in a handful of games to begin the season, then missed the next few weeks after re-aggravating a hip injury that previously nearly ended his playing career a few seasons prior. He returned to the IceHogs lineup for two more games, but was held out of the lineup for back-to-back games against the Grand Rapids Griffins this past weekend as a healthy-scratch. Sunday morning, news broke that he and the organization were mutually parting ways.
From the Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Blackhawks on the departure:
“Earlier this week, Kris approached us about mutually terminating his contract, at which point we asked him to take another couple of days to think about it. We spoke again Saturday morning and he had come to his final decision. Since 2007, when Kris first became a member of the Blackhawks organization, he has represented us with class and professionalism. He will always be a member of our organization’s family and we wish him and his family all the best going forward.” – Chicago Blackhawks Vice President, Hockey Operations/Team Affiliates and IceHogs General Manager, Mark Bernard
In a statement from Versteeg himself, he spoke of what joining the Blackhawks back in 2007 meant to him and what the organization and city has meant to him and his family ever since.
It all started in February 2007, while I was riding a bus with the Providence Bruins. We were on our way to play the Manchester Monarchs when head coach Scott Gordon called me to come see him up at the front of the bus. Scott said “Steeger… I hate to tell you this, but we just traded you.” All I can remember about this moment was that my mind was racing. I couldn’t hear anything but my own thoughts. It was only two weeks prior that we played a team that was loaded with young, exciting, and promising talent. With so many young players I remember saying to one of my teammates after the game “I sure hope I never get traded there.” After a couple minutes I finally asked Scott and said, “to who?” Scott picked up a pen and a piece of paper then wrote…CHICAGO. The team no more than two weeks ago I was dreading at the very thought of being traded to. At this exact moment I remember looking at that paper saying to myself “this is not good!”
What I didn’t know at that moment, is that I was being traded to an organization that would not only give me my first chance, but my second and final chance. I would like to give thanks and show my sincere gratitude to John McDonough, Stan Bowman, Mark Bernard, Al MacIsaac, Jay Blunk, and of course Rocky Wirtz and the entire Wirtz Family. You brought me in that day and gave me a new home. This organization gave me everything that I have today, and for this I am grateful. I, as well, would like to thank all members of the Blackhawks/IceHogs organization from top to bottom, and most importantly… the great fans of Chicago and Rockford.
Little did I know that day when I saw Scott write CHICAGO on that piece of paper that this word would forever be written all over my heart, and soul.
Thank you for everything.
Following the news on Sunday morning, Versteeg spoke to the local media to give his perspective in more detail on the decision to step away from the organization. Here were some of the takeaways:
In summary on his decision:
“When I got injured, I had a few weeks to assess things and see what I had envisioned for myself and what was fair to the kids on this team, what was fair to the coaching staff and to myself. I came back and was feeling good, but I couldn’t match the intensity that these kids were bringing every day. Not being able to do that is a disservice to them. Seeing kids sit out, and trying to find their way to the NHL and if I’m in there not pulling my weight or doing what I need to do, it’s not fair to them.”
What’s next for Versteeg:
“Right now, want to go play in the Spengler Cup, maybe go play with my brother a little bit and then, yeah, I’ll be done. So I know this is my last year, I’ll kind of see where it goes over the next few weeks but want to play with my brother and see where it goes from there.”
Is this a retirement:
“This is, yeah, this is pretty much, I’m done. But like I said the only way I’ll be playing anymore this year is if I get to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup and get to go play with my brother.”
“This is more of a mental thing than physical. To be brutally honest, I was sitting on the bench looking down at the guys and I could see it in their eyes and see everything that they are putting into it and I’m not able to match that. I’m not able to put that same focus and intensity into my game. So it’s hard for me to play at the level I needed to. It’s hard to watch kids sit out for me. So the mental part was a big part of it.”
“At the start of the year I felt great. Then in the Washington game I got hurt and it lingered for about three weeks and then finally got hurt more and I had to sit out for about three weeks. But when I got back I felt healthy, felt good, but I do look at the schedule coming up and it’s compact games every day and I don’t know with the way the league plays, with the physicality of this league, if I could physically hold up the rest of this season. With four and five games in a week sometimes, I looked at that part of the schedule and it scared me, for sure, so that played a lot into it too. There were a lot of factors that played into this whole thing.”
Any regrets coming back:
“If I didn’t come do this, I would regret it. If I didn’t come to Rockford and come to NHL camp, I would have been sitting at home and wondering, ‘What if?’ So for sure that would have been a regret. I laid it all on the line and it didn’t work out, unfortunately. But the biggest thing I got from coming back was to gain some humility. You play in the NHL for so long, you forget what the real world is like and what these guys go through. It’s crazy, you get that feeling and that sense of what it actually took to get to the NHL and you see what these kids go through and it puts a lot of things into perspective coming back.”
Hear the full exit interview from Kris Versteeg here:
Versteeg played in a total of 643 NHL games, 93 Stanley Cup playoff games, 145 AHL games, 20 Calder Cup playoffs games and 23 games overseas in the KHL and SHL. He finished his NHL career with 406 regular season and playoff points, with 139 combined regular season and playoff AHL points. Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and 2015.