The Chicago Blackhawks were not idle at this year’s NHL Trade Deadline, nor could they afford to be.
Just days previous, the team lost then-league leading scorer Patrick Kane to injury, and what was already bound to be a fight for Central Divsion playoff positioning turned dark for the Blackhawks.
Stan Bowman did not waste any time finding a solution; Antoine Vermette.
The 32-year old, who is in the final year of his five-year contract, was easily the best forward available at the Trade Deadline. A first-round pick and prospect Klas Dahlbeck was all that it took to bring the former Arizona Coyote to the Windy City, and significantly beef up the Blackhawks’ lagging offense.
Though he hasn’t recorded a point in his first two games in a Blackhawks’ sweater, on Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers, Vermette was the hero.
He scored the shoot-out winner, sealing a come-from-behind victory for Chicago in which they were badly outplayed by one of the Western Conference’s basement-dwelling teams.
Watching Vermette sneak the goal past Ben Scrivens was very relieving for Blackhawks’ fans, but now, questions have been raised about how well Vermette will have to perform if the Blackhawks want to enter the Playoffs with solid positioning, and perhaps advance deep enough to the point where Kane returns to the lineup.
Having Kane and Vermette play together, with a host of forwards such as Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Brandon Saad already in the Blackhawks’ lineup, would be a brief, but unbelievable sight to see. Having both no. 80 and no. 88 dressed in the same lineup, the Blackhawks’ would arguably have one of the most stacked offenses in recent history, and Stan Bowman would undeniably look like a genius.
However, there are still 17 regular season games left, and at least two full playoff series before Kane’s 2-3 month timeline finally comes into play, around the time of the Western Conference Final. Until then, just how good will Vermette need to be?
The answer is; probably not as good as one would think. Vermette is going to be a key cog in the Blackhawks’ offense moving forward, but players like Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw really need to pick it up down the home stretch. Joel Quenneville placing Teuvo Teravainen in the lineup for Bryan Bickell is just another example that the Blackhawks have finally sounded the alarm, and it’s time to “flip the switch”, as they always do around the springtime months.
It can be expected that Vermette will put up bigger numbers in Chicago compared to Arizona, due to the quality of the teammates around him. Although he doesn’t have a point yet in two games, that shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as Quenneville is still finding just how Vermette will slot in to the lineup, and who will play alongside him. There is no replacing Patrick Kane, but the Blackhawks now have the next best thing, and their offense may slow, but never stop, with Vermette in Kane’s place.
If it wasn’t before, it certainly is now; crunch time is upon the Chicago Blackhawks. These next 17 games will either make Stan Bowman look brilliant or imbecile; there is no middle ground. Though Blackhawks’ fans shouldn’t expect the world from Antoine Vermette, like they did from Patrick Kane, he will certainly be playing the part of ‘hero’ a few more times in the coming weeks.
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