Antoine Vermette (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Antonine Vermette started his time with the Blackhawks with a wimper, but it all ended with a wow. And his legacy in the Windy City will be remembered much more for the latter.As Antoine Vermette made his way through the mass of humanity in the cramped visitor’s dressing room at Amalie Arena after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, he was unfailingly polite. “Sorry for the sweat,” he said as he brushed up against people on his way to the door. “I probably stink, too. But I guess that’s a good thing at this time of the year.” There were games during the playoffs when Vermette didn’t stink at all. That’s because he was likely wearing expensive cologne under his designer suit while sitting in the press box. Check that. He kind of did stink, which was why he was in the press box wearing the expensive cologne under his designer suit in the first place. There can be no disputing the fact the Blackhawks went all in to win the Stanley Cup. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Kimmo Timonen for two second-round picks and a fourth-rounder? Well, let’s just say the Blackhawks might feel the pinch of that one sometime down the road.
And it was looking for a while as though their decision to acquire Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes for prospect Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick was going to fall into that clunker category, too.When Vermette registered just three assists in 19 games after joining the Hawks, it was looking like one of those deals that comes up in the epitaph for a GM after he gets fired. There’s a fine line between getting fair value and getting hosed, but by the time Game 5 had been completed, Vermette made it to the good side of the ledger. Make no mistake, Chicago will pay in the future with a dearth of prospects, and one of the reasons will be the deal for Vermette. But when you measure it on the means-to-an-end scale, nobody will look back on that trade and blame Stan Bowman for selling the future. Not when Vermette contributed so much for the present. His game-winner in Game 5 was his second of the series and third of the playoffs. Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said after the game he read somewhere Coyotes coach Dave Tippett had mentioned Vermette had a penchant for scoring big goals. None was bigger for Chicago than the game-winners Vermette scored in Game 1 and Game 5. If he doesn’t score those goals, perhaps the Hawks don’t win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years. So, consider Vermette’s bill to the team paid in full. Vermette was asked after the game whether he ever pondered the pressure that came with being included in a trade that surrendered so much of the future. He said he never did, which isn’t surprising, since most players aren’t wired that way. Getting them to think beyond the next game at that time of year is, well, impossible. “I never really thought about it that way, but you could see it that way,” he said. “As a player, you always put a lot of pressure on yourself. You try to bring your best foot forward every time you’re stepping on the ice there.” Looking good on the Hawks isn’t always as easy as it seems. You get into a routine in a place such as Arizona where the team is terrible and there’s little public accountability and you’re playing all sorts of big minutes. Then you’re thrown into the cauldron where expectations are sky high – both on the team and among the fan base – and you’re surrounded by winners and a coach who demands the game be played a certain way. It proved to be an adjustment for Vermette, but once he made it, even his coach said he was getting better with every passing game. “Right off the get-go, (this) was a great opportunity for me,” Vermette said. “I want to make the best out of it. This is a good group, obviously a special team. I’m glad I’m here to try to help the team.” His stay wasn’t a long one, though. Vermette returned to the Coyotes as UFA July 1. It may never again get as good as it did for Vermette in the spring of 2015. And decades from now he’ll be part of a team picture with the Cup and fans will say, “Hey, who was that guy who scored two-game winners in the final that year? Oh yeah, Antoine Vermette.” Not a terrible legacy when you think about it, particularly when you consider how he would be remembered if things had gone south for him and the organization. As the Blackhawks and their fans say goodbye to Vermette, they’ll likely add, “we hardly knew ye.” But that’s far better than being run out of town on a rail. This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the 2014-15 Season Commerative edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.