The Columbus Blue Jackets were pretty much an afterthought all season long when it came to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Columbus limped out to an 0-7-1 start and finished the regular season with an NHL-worst 65 points. At the trade deadline in February, the Jackets started unloading players in trades, including a deal that sent center Antoine Vermette to the Phoenix Coyotes for goalie Curtis McIlhenny and two draft picks.
Vermette had a career-high 27 goals and 65 points for the Blue Jackets in 2009-10, statistics which earned him a 5- year, $18.75 millon contract.
But in the two seasons that followed, Vermette's numbers dropped. Substantially.
The Quebec native scored 19 goals and notched 49 points the next season, and had just 8 goals and 19 assists for Columbus before the trade, but a change of scenery has served him well.
Vermette was decent in the stretch run of the regular season for the Coyotes, scoring 3 goals and adding 7 assists in 22 games for the Pacific Division champions.
But in the playoffs, Vermette's been a different player; he leads Phoenix with 5 goals and 8 points in the postseason.
"It was pretty smooth, I've got to say. The organization, the players and the coaching staff made it pretty easy on me and that made the adjustment go real well," Vermette said about his trade to the Coyotes during a Monday teleconference. "So, it's always an adjustment a little bit, a change of teammates and team philosophy a little bit, but it's been pretty smooth."
Pretty smooth is an understatement. Vermette's three playoff power play goals are tied for the most in the league with Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Florida's Stephen Weiss.
"Anytime a veteran player changes teams it takes a little bit to get going, but I think you're seeing the benefits of that trade in the playoffs here," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "He's been just a solid player for us and is getting rewarded with some goals and points. But he takes a lot of key faceoffs, plays the power play, plays the penalty kill; he's fit in very well with our group.
"The other thing that I really like is that we have a lot of real good people in our dressing room and he's a great teammate, cares about everything we're trying to do. That part of it, he's fit in very well with our group, also."
Vermette also possesses another important ingredient for a team pushing toward their first-ever appearance in a conference final: Stanley Cup Finals experience.
Vermette played in all five games of the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals with the Ottawa Senators, making him one of only two players on the active Coyotes roster with that experience on his résumé.
"It's a big emotional swing in the playoffs, and that's one of the things I learned from my days in Ottawa, going to the playoffs you need to manage those well," he said. "You can't get too excited, there's a moment for that after the game when you win. But after that it's game time and you have to focus on the right place, and I that's been one of the keys to our success in the playoffs."