Kris Versteeg leaving Rockford IceHogs: ‘It’s not fair to’ the prospects
The former Blackhawks wing says he’s done with pro hockey after hitting a mental wall in recent weeks.
After a well-meaning but unfulfilling stint with Rockford of the American Hockey League, beloved former Blackhawks wing Kris Versteeg is finished with pro hockey.
‘‘I’m done,’’ Versteeg told reporters Sunday in Rockford, shortly after agreeing to a mutual contract termination.
Versteeg, a veteran of 643 NHL games and a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Hawks, returned from a season in Europe to sign an AHL-only contract with Rockford — the Hawks’ AHL affiliate — during the summer. He intended to provide an experienced on- and off-ice role model for a young roster full of prospects.
But Versteeg, 33, reached a point where he thought his presence on the active roster was hindering some of his teammates’ NHL dreams.
‘‘I was sitting on the bench and looking down, and I could see in their eyes everything they were putting into it,’’ Versteeg said. ‘‘I’m not able to match that, and I’m not able to put that same focus and intensity into my game. It was hard to watch kids sit out for me.’’
He’s not completely retiring yet: He still hopes to play for Team Canada in the Spangler Cup, an international tournament in December. His brother Mitch, who plays professionally in Slovakia, might be on the Canadian roster.
Versteeg said he couldn’t handle the physicality and four-games-a-week grind of the AHL for the rest of the season. He finishes the season with one assist in six games: four at the start of the season, then two more — after missing three weeks with an injury — on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10.
‘‘I have been through the wringer the last seven years,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve had two hip surgeries, an ACL, a hand reconstruction, two groin [injuries]. I’ve had a lot of scarring and a lot of issues that affect me on a daily basis.’’
Training-camp surprise Philip Holm leads Rockford in points as a defenseman, and potential future Hawks grinders Matthew Highmore, Anton Wedin and Brandon Hagel also have generated solid production.
It’s the more obscure players, though — the ones hoping to secure footing in the AHL, then turn their eyes toward the NHL — to whom Versteeg thought he was doing a disservice.
‘‘If I’m in there and I’m not pulling my weight — and I know I’m not — then it’s not fair to them,’’ he said.
Lehner on historic pace
Yes, the season is only about one-fourth complete, but goalie Robin Lehner is setting a remarkable pace in his first 11 games with the Hawks.
If he somehow can maintain it for the full season, his .936 save percentage would be the best in franchise history (among goalies with 20 or more starts). Tony Esposito holds the Hawks’ top two all-time marks at .934 in 1971-72 and .930 in 1969-70.
Lehner finished at .930 in 46 games with the Islanders last season, so it’s not implausible.
Seabrook plays 1,100th game
Defenseman Brent Seabrook hit another milestone by playing in his 1,100th regular-season game against the Sabres.
Seabrook, 34, has been better so far this season than he was in the last few. He scored his second goal of the season and tied a career high with a plus-four rating Saturday against the Predators.