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.