PHILADELPHIA — Insisting he holds no grudges, Kris Versteeg still doesn’t fully understand why it happened.
Or necessarily agree with it.
As he prepares to face his former Maple Leafs teammates for the first time on Thursday since being traded by Toronto to the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 14, the speedy winger still scratches his head about the swap.
“It came out of left field,” Versteeg admitted on Wednesday. “I was shocked.”
Just like he was at the team’s post-trade assessment of him.
In specific terms, Versteeg wonders about general manager Brian Burke’s analysis that he did not fit into the team’s blueprint as a top-six forward, thereby making him expendable for the right price.
It’s easy to see why Versteeg would feel that way.
At 24, wasn’t he the type of young player the Leafs were looking to rebuild with?
As a member of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last spring, did he not show his extreme competitiveness during his head-to-head battles with Flyers captain Mike Richards during the final?
As for his time in Toronto, after a relatively uneventful stint playing alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, how was he supposed to pad his numbers after being moved back to a unit featuring Colby Armstrong and Tim Brent?
Those are all fair questions that many observers, including yours truly, have asked. It just seemed a bit premature to pull the plug after less than five months of regular season play.
At the same time, you can’t argue with the fact that Burke knows what he wants and, perhaps more importantly, what he doesn’t. In his mind, Versteeg did not establish himself as a foundation player on one of the top two lines.
Obviously Burke’s opinion differs from that of Versteeg.
“I don’t know why I can’t be a top-six forward,” Versteeg said. “I don’t know why people say that.
“I never said that I didn’t get an opportunity there. I just feel I didn’t get an opportunity over a long period of time in terms of playing up with guys like Phil. I know we struggled when we were together, but at least I was getting chances.
“I loved my time in Toronto. I didn’t want to leave. That was no secret.”
In the end, it’s not like Burke just dumped him like yesterday’s trash. You don’t get a first-round and a third-round pick for a guy who’s useless.
Make no mistake. Versteeg is not bitter with Leafs management. Far from it. He claims Burke was up front with him through the entire process and respects the GM’s decision.
Besides, if the Leafs didn’t see him as a key cog, he’s gone to an organization that does.
Versteeg found that out first hand when, on the day of the trade, he was picked up at the Tampa airport by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.
“It felt great to be wanted like that,” he said.
While he has just two points in seven games as a Flyer, his 16 shots are a reflection that he has generated scoring opportunities.
Of course, nothing would please him more than to break out against the Leafs on Thursday.
“I only had five minutes to get out of our hotel in Boston on the day of the deal, so I didn’t get the chance to say bye to the guys,” he said. “It’ll be great to see them again.
“Having said that, I’d love to get at least a couple against them.”
Who could blame him?