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After whirlwind trade, Vermette settles in with a win

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Antoine Vermette
left his wife and child behind in Arizona, where they will be able to awaken in their golf course home on Tuesday morning, bask in the Valley of the Sun and read all about his first game with the Blackhawks.

Meanwhile, back in cloudy and damp Chicago, the new guy in town will be able to look at the National Hockey League standings from the top for a change. He didn’t come here for the weather. He came here to win.

“That song sounded way better,” Vermette said after the Blackhawks toyed with the Carolina Hurricanes, beating them 5-2 on Monday night at the United Center. Obviously, "Chelsea Dagger" is not intended to entertain opposing teams.

“I mean, as a professional, it shouldn’t matter that the building is full and loud,” Vermette went on. “But, it does. It does matter. This is a fun situation. And like I said the other day, now I can watch how we’re doing in the standings. Every game means a lot.”

Consider what has transpired for Vermette. The Coyotes, from whom he was traded, are down and out, shackled with a nine-game losing streak, above only Edmonton in the Western Conference. Monday night here, he took regular shifts between Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp before another sellout crowd. Vermette hasn’t seen this many fans since the Blackhawks last played on the road in Arizona.

“Things have been a little crazy the last few days,” Vermette continued, “but this is where you want to be. Fighting for a Stanley Cup.”

Andrew Desjardins couldn’t have said it any better, but he was on a conference call Monday before heading this way from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Ben Smith. However, Vermette and the other new hand, Kimmo Timonen, were on deck before 21,461. The latter, in his first game since April 2014 with the Philadelphia Flyers, played 17:29 on left defense beside Brent Seabrook.

Jonathan Toews scored twice, once while shorthanded, Saad got his 20th on a second effort, and Marcus Kruger, who never seems to play a bad game, joined the fun. It was 4-0 after two periods, and Marian Hossa concluded the artillery in the third period. The Blackhawks did little wrong, even killing a 5-on-3 disadvantage when it was still a contest early in the middle period. We did not get to see how Vermette and Timonen might figure in on power plays, because the Blackhawks never had one.

Vermette, 32, will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. He was among the most desired individuals as the trade deadline approached, and conventional wisdom is that he shall be a perfect piece for the Blackhawks. As the nominal No. 2 center behind Toews, Vermette is less likely to face opponents' top lines as he often did in Arizona, where the rebuild is in full force.

Vermette has accomplished four different 20-goal seasons; his numbers over 12 years are 194 goals and 236 assists. This year, he had 13 goals and 22 assists with a -22 plus/minus rating for the Coyotes, who have been outscored by 78 goals. Vermette previously played for the Ottawa Senators, who selected him 55th overall in the 2000 NHL Draft, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Vermette possesses all the tools, not the least of which is a work ethic that demands effort at either end of the ice. On the dot, he is at 56 percent this season, or was until he won just five of 17 faceoffs Monday night. No reason for panic there. The guy has been on a whirlwind.

As has Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman, who fortified the team with significant last-minute maneuvers.

The Blackhawks pulled one long ago, just before the cutoff in February of 1973. After Bobby Hull departed for the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association the previous summer, experts dismissed the Blackhawks as a championship contender. But they hung around and, at the deadline, traded Dan Maloney to the Los Angeles Kings for Ralph Backstrom.

A classy forward who began his career with the Montreal Canadiens, Backstrom was an instant hit with the Blackhawks. He had a terrific postseason, helping the Blackhawks defeat the Blues and Rangers. The Blackhawks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens and lost, four games to two, but surely would not have gotten that far without the late arrival of Backstrom. Make a move, you never know.

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