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Blackhawks lock up Calder finalist Kris Versteeg to three-year deal

CHICAGO - The Chicago Blackhawks agreed to terms with left wing Kris Versteeg on a US$9.25-million, three-year contract Wednesday, effectively ending a free agent signing headache that prompted a grievance from the NHL Players' Association.

The NHLPA filed the grievance this week, saying the Blackhawks had missed the deadline for delivering qualifying offers to restricted free agents, including Versteeg. All seven of those restricted free agents who played at some time with the Blackhawks last season are now signed or have agreed to sign.

Versteeg led all rookies last season with 31 assists while ranking second with 53 points. He was fourth among first-year players with 22 goals, earning him a nomination for the 2009 Calder Trophy as Chicago advanced to the Western Conference final.

Versteeg will make $3.08 million per season, a considerable raise from the $490,000 he made in 2008-09. Defenceman Cam Barker reportedly got similar deal when he signed on Monday night. The Blackhawks also signed minor-league forward Bryan Bickell to a one-year contract.

The Blackhawks signed five other restricted free agents on Monday, coming to terms with forwards Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager and Colin Fraser, defenceman Aaron Johnson and goaltender Corey Crawford.

The team would not discuss terms.

"We're excited about getting everyone back," Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon said. "It's been a hectic week, but a positive week."

The Blackhawks had intended to re-sign all of their restricted free agents and emphasized that the team had tendered qualifying offers on time and in accordance with the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, Tallon said.

"We didn't miss anything," Tallon said. "We just filed later than we normally do.

"That's not something we've done in the past, but for a couple of reasons we were a little bit late," he added. "We should have filed earlier, as we have in the past. We didn't, but the good news is we got everybody signed."

Tallon denied that the administrative problem and grievance -which could have resulted in an arbitrator deciding that the players were unrestricted free agents and clear to sign where they wished - had caused the Blackhawks to overpay for them.

"I think we got them at fair-market value," Tallon said.

Tallon added the signings didn't put the Blackhawks over the NHL's salary cap, set at $56.8 million for 2009-10.

"We're in good shape and we're legal," he said "We're under the cap."

-With files from The Canadian Press


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