Antoine Vermette returns to Arizona Coyotes for two years, $7.5 million

Arizona’s re-signing of Antoine Vermette may seem strange at first, but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.

The kneejerk reaction to Antoine Vermette re-signing with the Arizona Coyotes might be, “He did WHAT?” After all, he was one of the best two unrestricted free agent centers available July 1, and the best considering Mike Ribeiro re-signed with Nashville early in the day. Contending teams, in theory, could’ve lined up out the door to employ a Stanley Cup-winning two-way center.

But, on second thought, Vermette returning to the Arizona Coyotes for two years and $7.5 million makes a lot of sense.

The Coyotes shipped Vermette and his expiring contract to Chicago approaching the 2015 trade deadline, acquiring a first-round pick, which Arizona used last Friday to select Nick Merkley 30th overall. Vermette struggled with the Hawks at first but hit his stride when it mattered: the playoffs. He scored three game-winning goals, including two in the final against Tampa Bay. He was instrumental in helping secure Chicago’s third championship in six seasons.

But that’s just it. Vermette, who turns 33 in a few weeks, won it all. He crossed the biggest item off his NHL bucket list. Why not return to Arizona, where he and his family were comfortable, now that he doesn’t have to satisfy a championship craving anymore?

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Landing Vermette, albeit with a no-trade clause, makes sense for GM Don Maloney and the Coyotes for a couple reasons. For one, Arizona needed to reach the salary floor. Secondly, even though the team has some bright young pivots on the way in Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak, it doesn’t have to rush either guy to the NHL now, as Vermette, Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon, Kyle Chipchura, Joe Vitale and even Brad Richardson can occupy the spots. This team has more centers than it needs. Whenever the young guns do arrive, Vermette is a handy, defensively responsible veteran for them to learn from. And in two years, if the Desert Dogs still aren’t ready to contend, maybe Vermette waives the clause to play for a contender again.

A smart move for Vermette on a personal level and a smart move for Arizona, for financial reasons and to help its youngsters.