In a surprising move on Monday, the Arizona Coyotes announced the team has bought out veteran center Antoine Vermette.
Vermette, 34, posted 17 goals and 21 assists in 76 games with the Coyotes last season. Only 17 players in the NHL took more faceoffs than Vermette (1,351) last year, one of them being Jonathan Toews. He won 55.8 percent of his draws for Arizona during the 2015-16 campaign.
He was traded to the Blackhawks by the Coyotes at the deadline during the 2014-15 season. In 19 regular season games with the Blackhawks in 2015, Vermette was credited with three assists and won 50 percent of his faceoffs. He added seven points in 20 postseason games as the Hawks went on to win the Stanley Cup; he was a healthy scratch early in the playoffs, but came on strong once coach Joel Quenneville re-inserted him into the lineup.
From the release:
“In order to give our team more flexibility, we needed to make this difficult decision,” said Chayka. “This move will provide an opportunity for some of our young, talented players to step up. Antoine is a class act and we thank him for all he did on and off the ice for the Arizona Coyotes organization. We wish him the best in the future.”
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) August 1, 2016
Chicago gave up defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a first round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft (#30 – Nick Merkley) for Vermette. Dahlbeck was not given a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent but returned to the desert on a one-year, $750,000 deal for the 2016-17 campaign.
Before the 2014-15 season, the Blackhawks signed a veteran center coming off a buyout. Brad Richards was supposed to be the Hawks’ second line center, but found himself in a bottom six role at times in the wake of the Vermette acquisition. An individual in the Hawks organization called Vermette “one of the best faceoff men I’ve ever seen,” and his track record proves that out.
Toews and a healthy Marcus Kruger, both of whom are excellent faceoff men, return for the Hawks this season. But the middle six forwards is where Chicago could use a player like Vermette; Artem Anisimov won only 44.2 percent of his faceoffs last season, and the Hawks could have one of Dennis Rasmussen, Andrew Desjardins, Vince Hinostroza or Martin Lundberg as a fourth line center.
The question is whether or not Quenneville’s healthy scratches of Vermette in 2015 made enough of a negative impact on him to crush any chance of the Blackhawks bringing him back for another run.