Antoine Vermette didn't have to wait until Monday to find out where he’s going to finish the 2014-15 season.
Late Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes came to terms on a deal involving the veteran center. The trade sees defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick in 2015 going to the Coyotes, meeting what Arizona was reportedly demanding for Vermette.
Vermette, 32, was one of the big prizes this deadline, and the acquisition by the Blackhawks appears to be a sign the team intends on spending every last dollar of the cap relief they received when winger Patrick Kane went down with a shoulder injury and was subsequently placed on long-term injured reserve.
In 63 games this season, Vermette has registered 13 goals and 35 points while skating 19 minutes a game. Vermette is on pace for 46 points this season, one point better than his 45-point total in 2014-15.
What made Vermette such an attractive option for teams in contention, though, is his two-way ability and skill at the faceoff dot. While there has been great debate about the analytical importance of faceoffs, for those in the camp that faceoff wins are of utmost importance – especially in the playoffs – landing Vermette meant acquiring one of the best faceoff men in the league. As of the Saturday evening, Vermette sits eighth in the league, winning 56 percent of his draws.
Obviously, however, he is a much different player than Kane, whose absence from the lineup opened the door for the Blackhawks to acquire Vermette. While Kane is a dynamic offensive player who slots in on the top two lines, Vermette will likely play primarily second- and third-line minutes, replacing Andrew Shaw in the Blackhawks’ bottom-six and allowing Shaw to move to the wing.
Already Chicago has toyed with moving Shaw out of the middle and back to the wing, his natural position, by slotting Teuvo Teravainen between Shaw and Bryan Bickell. Vermette’s acquisition allows coach Joel Quenneville to move Shaw to the wing full time if he so wishes.
In addition, it adds to Chicago’s center depth in a big way. The Blackhawks, who have long chased proper center help, will now boast Jonathan Toews, Brad Richards, Marcus Kruger and Vermette down the middle.
What makes Vermette so costly for Chicago, though, is that the Blackhawks gave up one of their burgeoning defensemen and a first-round selection for a rental player that is very unlikely to be back in the Windy City following the playoffs. The Blackhawks are extremely tight to the salary cap ceiling and Vermette will command a healthy salary on the open market, one that Chicago won’t be able to afford. Vermette’s current cap hit is $3.75 million in the final year of his deal.
Because of the Blackhawks’ cap situation, many are seeing this season as Chicago’s last real shot at bringing home a Stanley Cup with their current lineup. With Toews’ and Kane’s new contracts, which carry a cap hit of $10.5 million each, kicking in next season, the Blackhawks will likely be forced to shed salary around their star duo, much like they did following their 2010 championship.
Chicago already has roughly $53.7 million committed next season and will have to come to terms with restricted free agents Kruger and Brandon Saad, and make decisions about other RFAs such as Joakim Nordstrom, Tim Erixon and David Rundblad. The Blackhawks will also have a massive hole on the blueline next year, as only Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson are currently under contract for 2015-16.
As for the Coyotes side of the deal, Dahlbeck, 23, is a 6-foot-2, 194-pound blueliner who suited up for four games with the Blackhawks this season. In his third season with Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford, Dahlbeck has scored four goals and 10 points in 49 games. That offensive upside is the plus of Dahlbeck’s game, though. For the most part, he’ll be relied upon as a stay-at-home defender.
The Coyotes have made it clear they want to build for the future and keep getting younger, and the acquisition of Dahlbeck and the first-round pick should be able to help Arizona expedite the process of icing a young, competitive team.
Vermette was one of the biggest names available on the market and the trade shows that the prices for playoff rentals are as high as they have been in recent years. Deadline day is going to be big, if for no other reason than we can expect some huge payments as teams scramble to pin down the final pieces for a playoff run.