By Kyle Shohara
It should be noted that Antoine Vermette made a lasting impression on many Ducks fans for all the wrong reasons two seasons ago. For it was he who scored the game-winning goal in double overtime in Game 4 of the legendary 2015 Western Conference Final, as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Although it’s a memory not soon forgotten, Vermette is now joining the team he once battled so intensely against, having signed a two-year contract with Anaheim today after the Arizona Coyotes bought out the final year of his contract earlier this month.
Goals: 17 | Assists: 21 | Pts: 38
Shots: 123 | +/-: -14
Two years removed from winning his first championship, the 34-year-old says the opportunity to join another contender was a driving force in choosing Anaheim. “I’ve always portrayed [the Ducks] as Cup contenders,” Vermette said to reporters earlier today. “That’s a big thing for me. I had the chance to win it not too long ago, and now later in my career, I believe in this team and organization.”
This past weekend, Vermette’s agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted that five teams sent offers. Today, Vermette confirmed Anaheim as a team that showed interest from the start.
“As talks evolved, some [teams] were more interested than others,” Vermette said. “Anaheim was there all throughout the process.”
Vermette has a long history against the Ducks, dating back to his time with the Ottawa Senators – the team that selected him in the second round (55th overall) of the 2000 NHL Draft. He was a member of the Senators team that lost in five games to Anaheim in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.
After his time in Ottawa was over in 2009, he played parts of four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets (who were still in the Western Conference at the time) before joining the Coyotes in 2012, where he remained until the Blackhawks acquired him on Feb. 28, 2015. He returned to Arizona as a free agent the following summer, and posted 17 goals and 38 points with 93 penalty minutes in 76 games with the Coyotes last season.
As is the case with many who sign with the Ducks, Vermette says he’s looking forward to being on their side for once.
“This is always a tough team,” he said. “When you play the Ducks, you know you’re in for a big game. They’re big and skilled. They use those assets really well. I’m glad to be on their side. They have a lot of tools in the lineup that can hurt you, and there are a lot of good players. I’m very excited to jump on board and find the right chemistry to give us another championship.”
Aside from his offense, Vermette gives the Ducks a rock-solid presence up the middle, which includes captain Ryan Getzlaf and 2016 Selke finalist Ryan Kesler.
Since making his NHL debut with Ottawa in 2003-04, Vermette ranks second among all active NHL players in faceoff win percentage at 55.8% (min. 13,000 FO) and fifth in faceoff wins (7,595). He’s posted a faceoff win percentage of 50.0% or higher in 11 consecutive seasons and ranked in the NHL’s top 10 for faceoff leaders in each of the last four seasons.
Vermette finished the 2015-16 season with a 55.8 faceoff win percentage, which included a 54.3 success rate on the penalty kill. He led the Coyotes in faceoff wins (754) and paced team forwards in blocked shots (57). He has amassed 471 points (211g/260a) with 546 penalty minutes in 910 career NHL games over a 12-year span.
Not to be overlooked, of course, are the intangibles. A proven winner, Vermette brings experience and leadership to a Ducks team with well-documented postseason shortcomings as of late. He’s a veteran of 78 career postseason games, and has gone to the Stanley Cup Final twice.
Although Vermette is 34 now, arguably considered “old” in today’s NHL, he says he certainly doesn’t feel his age.
“I take a lot of pride in my preparation in the summer and how I carry myself in the season,” he said. “I’m 34, but I don’t feel that old. I know it isn’t that old, but in the game, you see so many young guys. I feel really good. I had a great summer again. I’ll keep pushing hard, and hopefully I can keep playing for a long time.”
Evoking haunting memories from the aforementioned Western Conference Final against Anaheim, Vermette was asked if he feels the need to smooth things over with those who had to witness his double-overtime heroics.
“I don’t know, maybe,” he said, with a laugh. “That was a big, tough series. I’ll always remember that.”