I've read a lot of blogwork in the past 24 hours and most of it has been angry. Most Leaf fans, including a large number of people whose opinions I respect, are unhappy about the Versteeg deal. Others have become more vocal on being dissatisfied with the Beauchemin deal as well. I think we all need to relax a little bit.
Most of the criticism of the Versteeg deal centers around the likelihood of getting a player of Versteeg's calibre in return. In my opinion, that's overly simplistic.
First of all, there's the cap space that Versteeg's departure clears. Admittedly, it's a thin free agency pool this season but impact players like Brad Richards and Tomas Vokoun appear to be headed towards free agency and both would fill sizeable holes on this team if we could land them. I would think that Versteeg's extra cap space, coupled with re-signing our big four RFAs (MacArthur, Schenn, Gunnarsson and Reimer) and the remaining roster places will likely leave us with about $10M to spend on a goalie and a forward (likely a center).
Secondly, acquiring a player that is of comparable value to Versteeg using the first round selection may only occur roughly 25% of the time but if that player cracks your team's lineup while on his ELC then his value to your team is greater than Versteeg's as his cap hit will be less than Versteeg's.
However unlikely, there are occasionally top tier players to be found in the late picks of the first round. If you could trade Kris Versteeg for a 10% chance that you land a player like Corey Perry, Cam Ward, Mike Green, Brendan Morrow or Cory Schneider then that's a deal I would make. Versteeg is a solid pro but he's not the kind of impact player that any of those players are. For all of his versatility in playing a checking role and scoring 20 goals at the same time, players of his calibre are infinitely more attainable.
Kris Versteeg's youth is another reason that many Leaf fans dislike the move. Sure, he could have been the type of player that grew with the team and I agree that we probably haven't seen the best of Kris Versteeg yet. Having said this, it's my feeling that youth is overvalued in players like Kris Versteeg.
Youth is very valuable in A-level talent. A-level talent, regardless of age, are the kinds of players that rarely hit free agency and when they do, they're almost always overpaid. It's simple supply and demand. Having a young, A-level talent means that you'll likely have them for many years to come which is important given how scarce these guys are. Kris Versteeg is not, and never will be, an A-level talent. He's a twenty goal scorer who is defensively responsible and these kinds of guys are available regularly. Sure, you may not get them at 24 years old, but who cares how old they are? If they're available regularly, then with solid cap management you can replace them regularly. Simple as that.
Much has been made of Versteeg's Qual-Comp as well as he ranks fifth on the team in terms of quality of competition. He's also a -13. Only Lebda, Kessel and Bozak are worse. Sure, he's played against a high calibre of competition but he's also produced the kinds of results that you would expect from a player that has had tough icetime. I'm not buying that he's a defensive stalwart.
I'd like to close by saying that I don't mean any of this to be a criticism of Versteeg. I think he was a perfectly adequate player for us. But if we can deal an adequate player for a pair of draft picks, including one in the first round, then I'm happy to see it happen. This is good asset management by Brian Burke and as much as Versteeg's departure will hurt for the rest of this season, the Leafs got good value for a replaceable player.