Blue Jackets

NHL Trading Deadline: LeClaire Dealt for Vermette (UPDATED – 3:30 PM)

The Jackets have made at least one move already, trading goaltender Pascal LeClaire to the Ottawa Senators for Antoine Vermette. Ottawa also receives the Jackets’ second round pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

As we detailed in The 5-Hole yesterday, this move makes the most sense for Columbus because it allows them to get a decent scoring forward while moving a piece of their team that won’t hurt them this season, and frankly is no longer in their long-term plans: LeClaire’s contract is currently paying him $3 million this year, and pays him $3.6 million next season and $4.8 million in the ‘10-‘11 season. In other words, that’s way more than the Jackets want to pay a backup goaltender, as Steve Mason is the clear starter at this point.

Vermette’s salary is a little more team-friendly: he’s making $2.525 million this season (of which the Jackets are only on the hook for a small pro-rated amount), and $3 million next season. He is then an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010. Vermette is currently only 26 years old, and despite a down year this year (on an offensively-challenged team), he averaged over 21 goals and 20 assists per season for the three seasons prior to this one. His best season was ‘07-‘08, when he had 24G/29A/53PTS.

With news coming this morning that Jason Chimera might be out for the rest of the regular season due to having surgery because of his groin issues, getting Vermette—who can play fast on the wing, much like Chimera when healthy—is a huge help. Also, Vermette brings some versatility to the team: he can play both center and wing. But, as Aaron Portzline notes, he’s better on the wing:

Vermette is a fast, skilled forward. Probably a third-line guy on a high-scoring club, but definitely a second-line guy — or better — with the Blue Jackets. He can play center and on the wing. He’s very good in the faceoff circle, but tends to be more productive when he plays on the wing.

It will be interesting to see where he lines up with the Jackets. The top line of Nash-Malhotra-Huselius seems to be pretty set, though I wonder if they won’t look at Vermette as a center there. I don’t see that happening at the moment, as right now Malhotra’s ability to win faceoffs is a true asset to that top line. Plus, Malhotra seems to play better with Nash and Juice (who wouldn’t?), as evidenced by his two goals against Los Angeles Tuesday night.

I think Vermette would be best served playing opposite of Jakub Voracek on whichever line he is on each night. My first thought would be to see if coach Ken Hitchcock lines up Vermetter and Voracek with RJ Umberger at center. That would be a pretty solid #2 line for this club at this time.

As a Jackets fan, I think this is a good move for Columbus, if only for the salary implications. I would have liked to have seen it go down without the inclusion of the draft pick, but with that much disparity in salary I understand why Howson threw the #2 in. As long as he doesn’t deal his #1…

In searching Senators’ blogs to get a fans’ perspective on Vermette, I’ve come across some ambivolence toward the deal, partly because of LeClaire’s injury issues, and partly because of Vermette himself. It seems Vermette is not a huge loss in their eyes. The Black Aces blog had this to say:

This is a bit of a jaw-dropper only because I never thought [GM Bryan] Murray would actually part with the speedy Vermette, despite his struggles to turn into a regular scorer. On the one hand, it’s tough to see Vermette and his speed leave town but you have to like Murray’s aggressiveness in going after a number one goalie. This plugs one huge hole because Leclaire is only 26 and has the potential to be a great goalie despite his problems with injuries.

The Battle for Ontario blog files Vermette in the category of: “Lost Souls / Solid Gold Toilets / Old Couches In Need Of A Loving Home”. The Solid Gold Toilets category is my favorite monniker of all time, BTW. UPDATE: The commenters over at BoO point out that Vermette is also very solid on the PK and a good defensive forward overall, which will absolutely help the Jackets and will fit him into the Hitchcockian style. It sounds like pairing Vermette and Nash on the #1 PK unit might result in some solid scoring chances.

I think its a solid, though not earth-shattering move for Columbus. Any updates about future moves will be posted here between now and 3:00 EST.

UPDATE: Following up on two of the names in the Jackets’ rumors from our colum yesterday, it looks like the Ducks got rid of Brendan Morrison after all. ESPN is reporting that he’s going to the Dallas Stars, who have been killed by injuries ever since they lost Brad Richards after the Columbus game two weeks ago and have fallen out of the playoffs. Also, it looks like Buffalo is keeping Tim Connolly after all.

UPDATE [2:10 PM]: Still nothing new to report, though the flurry in the NHL usually hits right before the deadline. Names like Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore (Fs, Toronto), Olli Jokinen (C, Phoenix), Derek Morris (D, Colorado), Jay Bouwmeester (D, Florida), Bill Guerin (F, NYIslanders) [UPDATE: Guerin was just dealt to the Penguins], Steve Reinprecht (C, Phoenix) and Jeff Halpern (C, Tampa Bay) out there in the ether, look for some more moves. Whether Columbus will be involved, who knows?

All continued silence by the Jackets aside, The Great Mullet had some positive things to say about the Vermette deal (click the ESPN Brendan Morrison link above to go to their live blog):

Russo (1:21 p.m. ET): Barry [Melrose] checking in, answering some of your e-mails:
Dublin, OH: With the addition of Vermette in Columbus, how do you view the Jackets’ chances of making the playoffs ?
Melrose: Well first off, I really don’t like Hradek’s new haircut … but I like the pickup of Vermette. Don’t forget, when Ottawa went to the Cup finals in 2007, Vermette was a very important player on that team … he can do a little bit of everything and has playoff experience. And, obviously, Leclaire has been passed by Steve Mason. Playoffs? Yes, I think they’ll get in. Go Blue Jackets!

Sadly, “Dublin, OH” was not me, though that’s where I live and I did submit some questions, darn it.

UPDATE [3:00]: The deadline has come and gone, and the Jackets have not made any more moves. There were fewer trades thus far this season than in years past (25 per year on deadline day each of the last few), and some big names didn’t move as they were expected to. Granted, as with the NBA, the paperwork just has to be in by 3:00, so more deals may trickle in as time goes by. Some other deals of note:

The Rangers just got A LOT better, picking up Derek Morris and Nik Antropov. How they continue to have cap space to make moves like this, I’ll never know.

Olli Jokinen went to Calgary, and the Flames also picked up Jordan Leopold. The Flames will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Jay Bouwmeester did NOT move, which was shocking. Dominick Moore was traded to Buffalo.

More coming if any new moves come out.

UPDATE [3:30]: Scott Howson on 97.1 The Fan said that he made another deal that will be announced, but it’s a minor leaguer/draft pick kind of trade, and he stressed it wasn’t something that would impact the club this year. Also, very solid Live Blog over at Light the Lamp.

  • DC In YOW

    Vermette is an excellent PK and is very fast. He was 2nd unit PP here. He could be a 30 goal scorer if he had less cement in his gloves but if he gets PP time beside Nash he should have some decent numbers. He leaves behind a lot of “unrealized expectations” but CBJ fans have a very useful player and someone the ladies will go nuts over.

  • …and someone the ladies will go nuts over.

    Anything to get more butts in seats!

    Thanks for the input. I look forward to help on the PK, and the infusion of team speed is good as well.

    I think this deal favors Columbus in the short-run because of LeClaire’s injury this season, but LeClaire may have more long-term upside than Vermette.

  • Lars

    Yea yea big trade and all, but re: Chimera – two words never to be used together – groin and surgery

  • Agreed with Lars. That made me do back-teeth-clench…

    So, given our conversation yesterday – this helps our power play stats?

  • hambown

    Sens fan here. You guys will really like Vermette. If he gets to play centre with some quality scoring wingers, he’ll put up points. Not as many as he should, but maybe playing with Nash, Huselius, Filatov, Brassard, & Voracek can fix that.

    Pros: He’s durable, he can play the PP, he’s AMAZING on the PK, he’s fast as hell, and he’s one of the top faceoff men in the league. Plays hard, good on the forecheck.

    Cons: Doesn’t shoot enough, doesn’t score enough.

    I think he’ll be enough to push you guys into the post season.

  • Thanks, hambown. I had read the pro’s about the PK and his speed, but did NOT know he was a solid faceoff guy (another glaring weakness on this team outside of Malhotra and Peca when he’s healthy). Good on the forecheck is a bonus, as when the Jackets are going right, they’re forechecking.

    I guess I’d hoped he’s play on a wing on the #2 line, but if he can center up the Nash/Juice line and push Malhotra down (without a noticeable drop-off in FO%), I’d be OK with that too.

  • Ricky

    Is Dublin the place with the cement corn and the rabbits made out of garbage?

  • Yes to the corn (Frantz Road). Not sure about the garbage bunnies…

  • @#4:
    Possibly. He’s better on the PK, but he may be able to help the PP as well. It’s a bit much to ask a guy to come in and save the PP (*cough*Williams*cough*), but he certainly should help make them a tiny bit better in that respect. I think his PK ability will help the Jackets much, much more.

  • Anonymous Bob

    Hi DP, Sens Fan here…

    I agree with Hambown…. Good player with great skills all around. The main knock on him is that he hasn’t lived up to his second line billing, but I would blame that more on coaching, and not finding reasonable wingers for him to play off of.

    Pretty hard to put up 2nd line C numbers, when you’re playing on the 3rd line most of the time with Kelly, and whatever scrub they could find.

  • Andy

    Another Ottawa fan.

    To expand a bit…don’t count his numbers for this season against him too much, the 1st half coach instituted an overly conservative system that was inappropriate for the Senators, including Vermette. Most of his points are from the last six weeks when a new, more aggressive system was instituted.

    You will love him in faceoffs. He is top 10 in the league in F/O %. You will also love him on the PK – if a D-man bobbles the puck at the blue line Vermette will be gone (he usually wins the Senators speed competition) so I guarantee your SH goal count just went up.

    The downside: he’s never really seemed to gel with anyone other than Chris Kelly, and a lot of his goals are solo efforts off the rush. Although he can sometimes turn defensemen inside out and makes lots of opportunities for himself he has trouble finishing.

    Overall, Vermette brings good F/O & special teams skills but just never developed into the strong second line scorer the Senators wanted. Hopefully he can do that in Columbus. Seems like a nice guy, I can’t recall ever hearing about any sort of conflict or discipline issue.

  • Thanks to everyone for weighing in. The more I read, the happier I am about this trade. I sincerely hope that LeClaire does well in Ottawa, as it’s always tough to lose your job because of an injury. He has the tools; he just needs to stay healthy in Ottawa. Hopefully playing closer to home will be good for him, too.

  • Tim

    I agree with most of the comments here re: Vermette — great skater, great face-off guy, great PK skills.

    On the negative side, Vermette, it can be argued, had his chances here. He never stepped up his game when paired with top-scoring players like Alfredsson, Spezza, and Heatley. Inevitably, he’d be dropped back down to the second or third line shortly after some time on the top line.

    He is quite small, so he is too easily pushed off the puck. Often he’ll skate well into the zone and tend to try to hang on to the puck too long before falling down/turning the puck over.

    The Senators had high hopes for Vermette being a solid second line center that could put up points. The fact is he never achieved that goal, and it could be due to his inconsistent play or the fact that he didn’t have good enough players surrounding him.

    Frankly, and I hope I’m wrong because I like the guy, I don’t see him gelling too well with Nash. Although his passing skills are decent, I don’t think he’s a pure set up guy that Nash might need. For that, Jason Spezza would be a better fit as he’s a pass first type of player. That said, I haven’t seen Nash play too much so I’m not sure if he’s a guy who needs a guy to set him up in the offensive zone or more of a set up man off the rush. If the latter, maybe Vermette will fit in with him well.

    Finally, Vermette — or “Vermie (terrible nickname) as he was known to his teammates — is a great community guy and he’s great with the media. I’ve never met him, but anyone I talk to that has met him has nothing but good things to say about him.

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