Saturday, 23 May 2015

Did They Overpay?

This was the moment just before the celebration tonight in double-overtime. Antoine Vermette was in the right place to find a sliver of room past Simon Despres' sprawl and Fredrik Andersen's out-streched glove to even the series between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks at 2-2. Vermette has been a healthy scratch in a few contests in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, and there have been some who have whispered that the Blackhawks overpaid to get him if he's watching from the press box despite tonight's heroics. So I'll ask the question: did they?

The Blackhawks were looking to solve a few salary cap issues for next season with the new deals for Toews and Kane ready to take effect, so they needed to get some expiring contracts on the books. Vermette's contract was expiring, and Arizona was looking to build for the future. Chicago saw an opportunity to get a veteran centerman who wins face-offs and is solid defensively whose contract was expiring, so they swung a deal with Arizona.
You can understand trading a somewhat-decent young player for a rental player if you need him. However, that first-round pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft seems like a hefty add-on in a deal for a guy Chicago almost certainly won't be re-signing. While there are some who feel that Chicago wasn't interested in picking in the bottom-third of the draft, you have to think that Arizona was more than thrilled to get back another first-round selection in what seems to be a decent draft year.

Did they overpay?

The 32-year-old Vermette had 194 NHL goals and 430 points at the time of the deal. It was thought he would slot into the third-line centerman position if Toews and Brad Richards held the top-two centerman positions. He is considered more of a defensive forward with the ability to win face-offs, so this would be an ideal fit for the veteran. However, in 19 games with the Blackhawks, Vermette didn't look comfortable in his role as he picked up just three assists.

Chicago, though, wasn't worried about the regular season. They were built for another deep playoff run. Vermette's value would be seen there, it was postulated. He would be counted on to play hard against the Predators and win key face-offs while chipping in timely points in a defensive effort. He'll show up, it was said, when it mattered most.

Except that he started the series in the press box, watching from above as the Blackhawks and Predators battled. Head coach Joel Quenneville spoke honestly when he said that the reason for the benching was based on performance. "Certainly, if I would have been better 'Q' and the coaching staff would evaluate my play better and it would be a different situation," Vermette told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "I can control what I can control and that's exactly what I'll try to do. I'm sure I'm going to get a chance at some point here and I'll make myself ready regardless of what happened before."

Vermette would be re-inserted into the lineup for the next ten games played by the Blackhawks, and he recorded a goal and an assist before he found himself sitting in Game Three against the Anaheim Ducks after the four-overtime marathon in Game Two. Understandably, he wasn't happy. "I thought I had a good game," Vermette told Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I was playing well. So it came as a surprise and disappointment. I'm not going to lie — I was not happy with that. But my job is to be ready whenever I have a chance to be in the lineup — and that's what I'm going to do."

He did return for Game Four, scoring one of the biggest goals for the Blackhawks this postseason.

Scratched in Game Three, hero in Game Four.

So did they overpay?

Vermette has two goals and an assist while sitting with a +4. His face-off percentage has been outstanding, winning 60.3% of the time at the face-off dot. He's sat three times, though, after Joel Quenneville found his play to be unacceptable in terms of what he wants out of Vermette. There's a yin and yang to the Vermette situation as he wins face-offs and chips in where he can, but he's not doing all that his head coach wants out of him.

If the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, I don't think the Blackhawks will miss the 30th-overall pick in the draft in exchange for having Vermette winning one of the key games in their Stanley Cup run. While draft picks are vitally important in today's NHL, winning a Stanley Cup still brings a caché that helps attract talent and free agents that can offset the loss of a first-round pick. Picking at 30th-overall may not bring a blue-chip prospect either.

If the Blackhawks don't win the Stanley Cup, though, there's a good chance that they overpaid. Vermette was supposed to be that piece acquired at the deadline that made the Blackhawks three-lines deep, and it could be argued that he hasn't done that yet outside of Game Four in the Western Conference Final. With the series against the Ducks being a best-of-three after Vermette's big goal, he'll need to show up a few more times for people to forget about the first-round pick and it would be helpful if he did it sooner rather than later.

Did they overpay? We'll know in three games or less.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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