« Your 2011-12 NHL Opening Night Rosters | Main | Live from New York, it's Opening Night! Florida Panthers at New York Islanders »

Kris Versteeg: The Florida Panthers 'X' Factor? ... Panthers Fly to Long Island on Friday ... Jose Theodore to Start v Isles

Versteeg The Panthers held a charity auction Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale. One fan had bid $1,600 to have lunch and a bowling date with one of the newest members of the team.

Standing on stage with his red tie undone and the top button of his dress shirt unhooked, Kris Versteeg finally agreed to serenade the crowd in song if the bid reached $3,000.

Auctioneer/television voice Steve Goldstein got the money to benefit pediatric cancer – thanks to some padding bids from general manager Dale Tallon – and Versteeg upheld his promise.

“I didn't think it would get to $3,000 but it did,'' Versteeg said with a grin.

The song: Hero by Enrique Iglesias.

“Classic moment,'' teammate Keaton Ellerby said. “It wasn't very good.''

(Video courtesy of the Florida Panthers, the NHL and floridapanthers.com)

Versteeg has been asked to sing on various occasions, and the good natured 25-year-old from Lethbridge, Alberta, has often obliged. Versteeg has become a YouTube hero after being captured singing Fergie in the Blackhawks locker room or rapping at the team's Stanley Cup parade in 2010.

Before taking the microphone from Goldstein on Tuesday, Versteeg recalled the last time Tallon heard him croon. It was at the Cup celebration, a memory both of them would like to replicate with the Panthers.

Tallon says he didn't come to South Florida to retire. He came here to build the Panthers into a champion. On July 1, Tallon got Versteeg back on his team when he acquired the three-time 20-goal scorer in a deal with the cash-strapped Flyers.

The Panthers are Versteeg's third team since his Cup-themed rap that hot June afternoon in Chicago. He hopes he has found a home in Florida.

“It's tough bouncing around, learning new teammates and new systems,'' said Versteeg. “When I finally got traded here, I hoped I could be here for some time. I love it here, love where I live. You can't beat the weather. I want to win here. We rebuilt in Chicago, got to the top and they shipped everyone out. All the new free agents get to reap the benefit of us winning the Cup. I want to stay here and win the Cup here.''

Tallon had been Chicago's general manager for five seasons before being replaced and demoted by the team in 2009 after being blamed for a contract filing mistake with the league. Tallon had left the franchise to join the Panthers before the team had won its first championship since 1961. Tallon flew to Chicago to be Hawkscup part of the celebration, meeting Versteeg and some teammates at a Chicago bar – as he promised – to swig out of the silver chalice.

Tallon says he hadn't touched a drink in 16 years before slugging whiskey out of the Cup that day; he says he hasn't had one since.

“The first thing Dale tells you is the goal is to win the Stanley Cup,'' Versteeg said. “If that's not on the mind of the GM, well, I don't want to play there. His main focus is to develop this franchise to be able to go into battle and win it all. Dale sticks to his word. He says he's not drinking until we get another one.''

Versteeg started last season in Toronto but was traded to Philadelphia in February. Although Versteeg's laid-back attitude didn't fly in hockey-obsessed Toronto, Florida looks like the right fit. Versteeg may hail from a town located between Calgary and Great Falls, Montana, but he looks like he may as well have attended Stranahan High School, spending his days roaming Fort Lauderdale beach.

Teammates say don't let the surfer image fool you. Versteeg isn't afraid to get into a fight and get a little dirty while on the ice. His speed and quick hands also give the Panthers some much-needed offensive punch.

“He's a character guy who keeps things light,'' said Stephen Weiss, who will likely start Saturday's season opener centering a line with Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. “He does his thing on the ice. He plays hard. He had a tussle the other night and that shows the kind of guy he is. And he's a guy who can score, has good vision. He is a very versatile guy you want on your team. I'm looking forward to playing with him.''

-- The Panthers planned to hold a team dinner in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday before spending the night at a local hotel. The team will take an early flight to New York on Friday and hold an afternoon practice at the Nassau Coliseum to prepare for Saturday's season opener against the Islanders.

-- Coach Kevin Dineen said goalie Jose Theodore would start Saturday's game as expected.