ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After trading Kris Versteeg to Chicago on Thursday night, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon espoused a familiar refrain: Florida is building for a brighter future.
Maybe this time those hopes will come true.
The Panthers got a couple of prospects for the so-far underachieving — and perhaps still mending — Versteeg from the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
Jimmy Hayes, a 6-foot-6 winger, practiced with the Panthers on Friday but was not in the lineup as Florida lost 3-2 to the host Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
“I’m not happy with the situation our team is in as far as wins and losses,” said Tallon, who added he was disappointed in Versteeg’s play this season. “We added two young pieces to an already-deep foundation of players and prospects.”
Florida not only sent Versteeg (two goals in 18 games this season) to the Western Conference’s second-place team, but it also will pick up half of his substantial tab as well.
The Blackhawks and Panthers will split the remaining money and salary cap hit for Versteeg through 2015. Versteeg makes an average of $4.4 million per season and has already made $1.07 million.
With only a handful of teams having the cap space to take on Versteeg’s salary, Tallon’s options were limited — and costly. Florida will pay Versteeg about $6.5 million to play in Chicago.
Versteeg left Minnesota in the early morning hours to join his new — and former — teammates for practice in Chicago.
A member of Chicago’s Cup championship team in 2010, Versteeg could hardly contain his joy in returning to a city and team he didn’t want to leave.
On Thursday night, Versteeg said he was at dinner with a friend when Tallon called with the good news. “It put a smile on my face,’’ Versteeg told reporters, adding he was jealous to see his old mates win the Cup without him last summer.
“I’ve had so much good times [in Chicago] here and you almost put that all in the rearview mirror because you never thought you’d come back,’’ said Versteeg, who was traded to Toronto in 2010 and came to Florida the following summer.
Versteeg has struggled to put up the numbers he did with the Panthers not only in 2011-12 (23 goals, 31 assists) but previously with Chicago. Versteeg was limited to 10 games last year with a serious knee injury on March 12 cutting his season short and forcing him into a summer of rehabilitation.
Versteeg played in 18 of Florida’s 19 games, missing the game in Washington on Nov. 2 when then-coach Kevin Dineen benched him. Versteeg was visibly upset by being scratched for what he said was the first time in his career.
The Panthers obviously felt Versteeg’s game wasn’t worth the big money he was being paid and dealt him back to the Blackhawks.
“It’s more than just scoring goals. His play wasn’t consistent,” new coach Peter Horachek said.
• The Wild scored two goals off eight shots on Tim Thomas in the opening period. The Panthers tied it in the third period on goals from Tomas Kopecky and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Charlie Coyle gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead with 8:22 remaining to help Minnesota win its third in a row. Florida, which traveled to Denver later in the evening, has lost 10 of the past 11.
“It seems like it’s the same picture over and over,” Horachek said of falling behind again. “We’re trying to get it out of our system.”
• Center Nick Bjugstad had dozens of friends and family members attend his first pro game near his hometown. Bjugstad was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as a prep star in 2010 and spent three years at the University of Minnesota before leaving to sign with the Panthers last April.