Vermette an integral cog

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

There are some fans in Ottawa that were willing to give up the moon in order to land a well-known centre like Doug Weight.

The nail-biting masses were insisting that something be done, short of sacrificing one of our stars.

So why not throw Antoine Vermette out as bait to any interested teams, right?

Wrong.

To the average observer, Vermette appears dispensable because he doesn't hold an illustrious role on the Senators. Maintain a goaltending system, strong offensive and defensive cores -- the rest should be smooth sailing.

However, that's not how Stanley Cup championship teams are built.

It sometimes seems like Vermette is barely noticed amidst the bright lights of the Sens' other stars -- he's certainly capable of dazzling play, as demonstrated during the skills competition -- but that's not why he remains on the team.

He now brings a crucial element for which he wasn't originally slated.

When he first broke into the NHL, Vermette displayed proof of significant offensive potential. He had spent successful years in both Victoriaville and Binghamton (119 points in 71 games with the Tigres in 2000-01, and 62 points in 80 games with the Baby Sens in 2002-03).

But joining a team with a multitude of scoring prowess provided some unforeseen difficulties in securing a spot as a top centre. Vermette needed to alter his role.

Luckily he was able to receive a stellar defensive education from former Senators coach Jacques Martin.

That nurturing has continued with Bryan Murray as the young forward continues to grow into a legitimate two-way player.

Vermette is a huge reason why the Senators remain in the top echelon of penalty-killing ability.

With his speed and stick manipulation, he takes away the shooting lanes of the opposition.

Those bursts of velocity have also assisted in another aspect -- shorthanded goals. Vermette has buried three this year, bested only by Daniel Alfredsson with five.

When a player takes on these roles while serving as a reliable and consistent contributor throughout the season, it makes it difficult to part with them.

The Senators have a number of high-priced free agents to secure in the immediate future. Vermette can be locked up at a reasonable price (his 2005-06 salary is $564,300 US).

As he matures, it will only become more evident how valuable he could truly be, at a fraction of the cost of a similar player, such as Marco Sturm.

Why would Ottawa consider trading Vermette now, when they've invested so much? He's on the cusp of cashing in on his potential.

It's true the Senators are looking for 2005-06 to be their championship season, but there is the future to consider.

It is naive to think the team won't be unloading other forwards that earn larger salaries. And it would be foolish to eliminate an integral cog of the special-teams lineup when Stanley Cups can be won or lost over the lack of such necessities.

You may not always notice Vermette, but he's making a difference.

That difference may be the one that sees Ottawa in the Stanley Cup final, as opposed to golfing in mid-May.

DON'T GET PERSONAL: There's little else to be said thus far in respect to the alleged gambling ring scandal that has rocked the NHL. However, there is one aspect of the coverage I have found most perplexing. A number of analysts in Canada seem extremely hesitant to discuss the story. The common denominator seems to be personal relationships involving these particular analysts, and either Rick Tocchet or Wayne Gretzky. How is the public expected to receive an objective view of this story if these analysts are fearful of criticizing their friends?

QUICK HITS: Did you see the hit Serge Aubin put on Bryan McCabe during Tuesday's Leafs-Thrashers game? The Toronto defenceman went down as if he had been shot -- writhing and screaming in pain. He was helped off the ice and Leaf Nation went into hysterics. Aubin received a five-minute major and a game misconduct. McCabe returned halfway through the power play, seemingly none the worse for wear. Needless to say, the man should be added to the Academy Awards nominee list ... The New York Post's Page Six reports that Tom Brady and actress Bridget Moynahan have called it quits. Perhaps that explains why Brady was wearing that bizarre velvet smoking jacket during the Super Bowl coin toss. He looked like he was attempting to channel Hugh Hefner.

ERIN NICKS IS AN OTTAWA-BASED FREELANCE COLUMNIST. CONTACT HER AT ERINNICKS@YAHOO.CA


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