Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers trade Kris Versteeg back to Chicago Blackhawks

Dale Tallon said after firing coach Kevin Dineen that more changes were coming.

A big move came late Thursday night.

Tallon sent Kris Versteeg — who scored 23 goals for Florida two seasons ago — back to Chicago in exchange for winger Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen. Versteeg won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010.

Stan Bowman, who replaced Tallon as GM of the Blackhawks, said Florida will pay half of Versteeg’s $4.6 million this season. Versteeg is signed for the next two seasons at $4.7 million per year.

“We are pleased to welcome both Jimmy and Dylan to the Panthers,” Tallon said in a statement.

“Jimmy is a young, strong, hardworking, versatile forward who brings both size and skill to our team. Dylan, a former first round draft pick, is a young, solid defenseman who adds further depth to our blue line. We thank Kris for his contributions to the Panthers, including helping us win the 2011-2012 Southeast Division Championship, and wish him the best of luck in his return to Chicago.”

Hayes, 23, has played in 43 career NHL games with Chicago, scoring six goals with seven assists.

Olsen, 22 has played in 28 career games with Chicago. He has one assist.

Bjugstad’s return

Though Friday will be Panthers rookie center Nick Bjugstad’s first NHL game in Xcel Energy Center, Bjugstad’s got plenty of good memories from playing there.

“I played three years in the state tournament, so probably five games, six games with that,” he said. “Probably eight or nine total. I’ve had quite a bit of experience on the ice.”

Bjugstad almost named his Minnesota state hockey tournament games with Blaine High School, playing in front of 18,000 screaming fans, as his most memorable times in the arena, built on the spot of the old St. Paul Civic Center, which hosted the high school tournament for years. Then, he remembered that his University of Minnesota team beat rival North Dakota 5-2 there to advance to the 2012 Frozen Four.

With Wild tickets at a premium in hockey-happy Minnesota, Bjugstad said he was happy his mother had reached out to a few contacts to satisfy demand.

The Minneapolis native has seen his ice time increased since the firing of Kevin Dineen’s staff and the elevation of Peter Horachek. Under Dineen, Bjugstad played a low of 9:48 (the season opener) and a high of 13:44. The three games under Horachek: 18:35, 18:18, 18:44. Bjugstad has a goal and two assists in the past four games.

Long road ahead

Horachek clearly wasn’t thrilled that there wouldn’t be much practice time on the upcoming road trip, five games in eight nights.

The Panthers open with back-to-back games in St. Paul and Denver, then get Sunday and Monday off before Tuesday in Vancouver, Thursday in Edmonton and Friday in Calgary.

“I think the best thing would be more practice time, but going on the road is OK, too,” Horachek said. “We can’t change anything. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to try to work our way to the right direction.”

Back on track

It’s not often you break a losing streak against the team atop the NHL standings as the Panthers did Tuesday night against Anaheim.

“It’s a big win,” Horachek said. “There’s so much pressure and negativity around it. So, I come in and the idea is to not let the negativity come in and not let a Schleprock cloud over everything. The guys have to start right there, right now and move forward. They have to have a positive frame of mind and move forward.”

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