CHICAGO – It was a struggle for Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette to find the right words after practice Tuesday.
The 32-year-old, acquired Feb. 28 in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is likely to be a healthy scratch to start the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA3, CSN-CH, FS-TN).
Vermette, who centered Arizona's top line, was considered by some analysts to be the top forward available prior to the March 2 NHL Trade Deadline. Now he's stuck outside the Blackhawks' top four lines to begin the postseason.
"Obviously I want to play, I want to help the team to win [and be] successful," said Vermette, who didn't score a goal, and had three assists and a minus-2 rating in 19 games after the trade. "Certainly the last thing I want to do is make it about myself and be a distraction."
Vermette did his best not to complain when asked about likely sitting out Game 1. His mannerisms revealed a little more. He appeared to be upset, but doesn't want to cause problems for a team with high aspirations.
"It's not a great position, but I want to be supportive," Vermette said. "It's not about me. It's about the team and [winning] some games."
Almost every facet of Vermette's game dropped off after the trade. His lack of offensive production was the most obvious, but his individual puck-possession stats weren't good and his faceoff win percentage dropped six percentage points from the 56 percent he won with the Coyotes.
Vermette is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and the Blackhawks gave up a lot to acquire him. They sent their first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft plus defense prospect Klas Dahlbeck to Arizona in the trade. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said external factors like that can sometimes influence his lineup decisions but not as much as what he sees.
"We always say it doesn't matter how much money you make or who you are," Quenneville said. "Your performance is going to dictate everything you get and everything you're going to earn."
Vermette sounds like he received the message, even if it comes with a sting.
"You prepare yourself and make sure you're working hard and be ready whenever you go," he said. "If it had been better, I wouldn't be in this position. I'll leave it [at that]."