Approaching July 1st this year, one name had been given a somewhat surprising amount of attention. Veteran center Antoine Vermette, who was coming off the least productive season of his long career, was nevertheless reported to be a target of several teams by several different sources. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie went so far as to say that with a high demand for centermen, there was “significant interest” across the league in Vermette. Yet, three weeks later, he remains a free agent with little to no discussion of any potential landing spots.
What could have caused Vermette’s market to fall apart? It could be that many teams taking a look at the two-way pivot were able to land superior options, while others found comparable players at a cheaper price. Vermette hasn’t made under $1MM in a season since 2006 and at 36 years old he may not have been willing to return to that price point to extend his career. However, several other unrestricted free agent centers with similar (and superior) 2017-18 production have signed at cap hit between the $650K minimum and Vermette’s previous $1.75MM salary. They include Matt Cullen and Derek Grant to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kyle Brodziak to the Edmonton Oilers, and Vermette’s Anaheim teammate Chris Wagner to the Boston Bruins, as well as Connor Brickley to the Nashville Predators, Paul Carey to the Ottawa Senators, and Michael Sgarbossa to the Washington Capitals. That’s at least six teams who likely kicked the tires on Vermette but may have found a better fit at an more comfortable price in who they decided to sign.
The other possibility is that the market was overblown in the first place. It did seem as though Vermette was slowing down substantially last season. The 14-year veteran recorded eight goals and eight assists for 16 points with the Ducks last season; each of those marks is Vermette’s lowest since his rookie year in 2003-04. His physicality tailed off and he was not as successful with his trademark defensive play, lagging in turnovers and zone exits and posting career-low possession numbers. Vermette was still dominant at the face-off dot, but teams may have been overplaying that one trait and Vermette’s years of experience, when other options with higher potential for offense and defense were waiting for them on the open market.
It could be that Vermette’s name value alone lands him a job this summer. It may be that he was overpricing himself early on to teams or that the market simply never developed, but it seems unlikely that if the well-respected and well-traveled center wanted to play next season, that he couldn’t find a shot somewhere. However, the demand is not what it once was in the past and not what it was made out to be earlier this month. Perhaps Vermette’s time to hang up the skate has come.