Antoine Vermette is going to get his opportunities this season — four of them, to be exact — to prove the Arizona Coyotes were wrong to send him packing this off-season.
Two weeks after being unexpectedly bought out by the Coyotes on Aug. 1, Vermette has signed a two-year, $3.5-million deal with the Anaheim Ducks, according to the Orange County Register's Eric Stephens. The deal will keep Vermette in the same division as Arizona and give him four outings against his former club in the upcoming campaign. The deal comes two days after his agent, Allan Walsh, announced the 34-year-old was mulling over several offers.
The signing is as close to a perfect fit as it gets for the two sides. With Vermette inked to a deal that pays him only $1.75 million per season, he’s easy on the Ducks in terms of cap hit and instantly slots into the third-line center role to provide Anaheim with some extra scoring punch and defensive ability down the middle.
Vermette signing with the Ducks does more than just give them a helpful hand in the bottom-six, though. In effect, Vermette is the perfect replacement for Nate Thompson, who was originally slotted into a depth center role and will be out for the majority of the season following an Achilles injury. In swapping out Thompson for Vermette, the Ducks actually land somewhat of an upgrade, too.
While Thompson is undoubtedly a better play driver — his underlying numbers over the past three seasons are better than Vermette’s in Corsi for and goals for, and that’s while taking on a larger defensive-zone responsibility — but Vermette’s ability to contribute offensively in a third-line role could be a difference-maker. Thompson has potted 17 goals and 40 points in 210 games over the past three seasons, while Vermette has registered 54 goals and 121 points in 240 games over the past four seasons. That’s a massive swing in offensive contributions.
And it’s to be seen what Vermette can do in terms of his defensive play and underlying numbers in Anaheim, because it very well could improve in a more specialized role. With Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf centering the top two lines, Vermette will likely still be a key contributor in the bottom six, but he won’t have much pressure to produce offensively. He can take defensive-zone starts and win faceoffs — which he’s exceptional at — before turning the puck up ice and letting the top-six do the heavy lifting offensively.
The cap hit works out amazingly for the Ducks, as well, especially when taking Thompson into account. Thompson was set to earn $1.6 million this coming season, but he’ll almost certainly be placed on long-term injured reserve. The slight difference in cap hit — $150,000 — is easy for the Ducks to stomach and still leaves them with roughly $6.65 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.
Anaheim has Arizona to thank for that, too, because Vermette’s buyout certainly helped keep the cap hit down for the veteran pivot. He’s already set to earn $1.25 million in each of the next two campaigns from the Coyotes, and the $1.75 million in 2016-17 and 2017-18 from the Ducks means Vermette will be making $3 million per year in the next two seasons.
It may be hard to fathom that the best move a team in the top-heavy Pacific Division made came in the doldrums of the off-season, but the Vermette acquisition very well could have pushed the Ducks from contenders in the Pacific to frontrunners in both the division and conference.
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