Coyotes center Joe Vitale had to battle his way into the Arizona lineup after being a healthy scratch in four consecutive games to start the season, but after little more than six minutes of ice time Oct. 17 in his first game of the campaign — which included a fight against Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller — Vitale’s season appears to be over.
According to AZCentral’s Sarah McLellan, Vitale will miss the remainder of the season with “concussion-related issues.” Coyotes GM told McLellan that Vitale hasn’t shown much progress in his recovery from a concussion that was sustained from the fight against Miller.
Beyond the concussion he suffered while fighting Vitale, the 30-year-old also fractured his orbital bone.
Vitale has tried to make his mark over the past several seasons as a bottom-six pivot and has been an NHL regular over the past four seasons. There was some promise that Vitale could become a key bottom-six player for the Coyotes when the club inked him to a three-year, $3.35-million deal in July 2014, but now he’s set to miss almost the entire second year of his three-year pact.
Before coming to Arizona, Vitale spent four seasons with the Penguins and was coming off of a career-best one-goal, 14-point season in 53 games with Pittsburgh when he signed his deal with Arizona. In the first year of his contract, he scored three goals and nine points in 70 games while averaging 11:13 in ice time. It was the highest average ice time of Vitale’s NHL career.
For the most part, Vitale was relied upon as a defensive center for the Coyotes in 2014-15 and have the second-highest defensive zone start percentage, 41.1, of any player on the team last season.
There has to be some concern, especially with Maloney saying Vitale hasn’t made much progress in his recovery, that this could be potentially career-threatening. At this point, Vitale has missed 48 consecutive games and it appears he’s no closer to getting back on the ice. The Coyotes aren’t currently in a playoff spot and are sliding out of the race, which means no return during the regular season makes it likely Vitale’s 2015-16 season is over.