GLENDALE, Ariz. — Antoine Vermette’s second go-round with the Coyotes wasn’t nearly as memorable as the first. On Monday, it came to an abrupt end when Arizona placed the 34-year-old center on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out the final year of his two-year, $7.5 million contract
The move will cost the Coyotes against the salary cap for the next two years, but will save them in the long run.
“In order to give our team more flexibility, we needed to make this difficult decision,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka in a statement. “This move will provide an opportunity for some of our young, talented players to step up. Antoine is a class act and we thank him for all he did on and off the ice for the Arizona Coyotes organization.”
Assuming Vermette clears waivers, he will become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday. The first buyout window for the Coyotes had closed on June 30, but when a team has a player that elects salary arbitration, it opens a second buyout window that closed on Monday.
Defenseman Michael Stone had an arbitration hearing date set for Aug. 4, but settled with the Coyotes on Thursday. That opened up the second window, but only for players with a minimum contract over $2.9 million, per a source. Vermette was scheduled to make $3.75 million this season.
Vermette had a sluggish start to the 2015-16 season in his return to the Coyotes after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks the previous season. The Coyotes had shipped him to Chicago in a 2015 trade-deadline deal for defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and the Hawks’ first-round pick in 2015 (No. 30, Nick Merkley), but he re-signed with Arizona in the offseason.
He played better late last season and ended up with 17 goals and 38 points, but the Coyotes have a logjam at center. Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson are both under contract, and the Coyotes would like to make space for some of their top prospects, such as 2015 first-round pick (third overall) Dylan Strome and 2014 second-round pick (58th) Christian Dvorak.
There is also the possibility that buying out Vermette could be the precursor to another move. Chayka has made no secret of his desire to improve the Coyotes’ roster this season and he believes there are still opportunities in the trade market.
Given Vermette’s age (34) and diminishing production, he was likely slotted for a bottom-six role this season. If either Strome or Dvorak isn’t ready to make the jump to the NHL, the Coyotes also have Tyler Gaudet and Laurent Dauphin as possibilities to man the spot Vermette would have.
The Coyotes explored trade options first for Vermette, who had a modified no-trade clause, but they did not find a market. Nonetheless, Vermette should garner significant attention once he clears waivers on Tuesday.
Vermette came to the Coyotes on February 22, 2012, in exchange for goaltender Curtis McElhinney, a 2012 second-round draft pick and a conditional 2013 fifth-round draft pick. In 22 games that season, he had three goals and 10 points, and then followed it up with five goals and 10 points in 16 playoff games as the Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference Final.
A standout faceoff man, Vermette totaled 70 goals and 149 points in 291 games with the team.