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Vermette happy to stay with Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Antoine Vermette is right where he wants to be.

With two more seasons – at least – to blossom into the kind of offensive threat he dearly wants to become in an Ottawa Senators uniform.

Senators forward Antoine Vermette avoided arbitration by signing a two-year contract with the team this morning (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Senators general manager Bryan Murray announced this morning that he had reached an agreement on a new contract that will keep the 25-year-old native of St-Agapit, Que., in Ottawa colours through the 2009-10 season. The deal was struck minutes before both sides were to present their respective cases before an arbitrator in Toronto.

“I’m happy,” Vermette told reporters on a conference call. “Ottawa is where I want to play hockey and I love the city. I love the fan base and the support we have there.

“We have a good team and I have some good friends on the team as well. All that being said, I have a chance there to see what my role (will be) in the next two years and go from there.”

Vermette, who notched career highs in goals (25) and assists (29) during his fourth full season with the Senators, has spoken often about his desire to become a bigger part of the Senators’ attack.

“Absolutely. I never hide it,” Vermette told last season when asked about his desire to contribute more offensively. “You always want to maximize your potential or your capacity and you want to do the best that you can.

“I used to have more of an offensive role when I was younger. I didn’t hide it. I liked it. But you want to fit into the right place and be (part of) a successful group.”

While Vermette has been one of the Senators’ top penalty killers in recent seasons, Murray believes he can push for 30-goal seasons in the near future.

“I think he has the potential to be more than he has been (as a goal scorer) to this point in time,” said Murray. “He believes that sincerely and I think that was a stumbling block (in negotiations) as much as anything in doing a longer-term deal.

“We see a certain player at the moment. We have to recognize that he projects a little higher than that, which I’m very happy to hear. I believe that within three years, you’ll see a little better offensive player than he is (right now).”

Both sides were happy to avoid an arbitration hearing, though it took some doing. Talks went beyond 1 a.m. last night and the deal wasn’t completed until just before the scheduled 10 a.m. hearing today.

“If you have the option, probably both sides don’t want to go there (to arbitration),” said Vermette. “You want to keep the door open for eventually (signing) another deal and if you do that, the relationship is pretty good.”

Said Murray: “It seemed to take a long time to get it done, over the last couple of weeks in particular, but to get it done before the arbitration is real good.”

The hearing would have been based on a two-year contract, Murray added.

“We had actually talked about a longer term,” he said. “We had talked about a variety of scenarios. I think we were working on a two-year deal all along. It all comes down to the money involved (after that).”

Only one Senators players now remains unsigned – defenceman Andrej Meszaros, a restricted free agent who doesn’t yet have arbitration rights.

“There’s nothing new on him,” said Murray. “At this point, we’ve talked for a length of time…. We’re not close to really doing anything different that we’ve been doing for the last month or so.”

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