Getting Well Again - Part 4 - Vermette - The Tipping Point
posted Apr 17, 2006 at 11:59PM
In sphere of military jargon, there is the concept of "key terrain". Now the key terrain is not necessarily the most important piece of ground on the battlefield. It is almost never the objective of the attack. Often it is not even an obvious feature. And yet the key terrain is that piece of ground that you have to control in order to win the battle. It may be a ridge-line that you need in order to launch an attack, or defend a crossroads. It may be a bridge or a ferry crossing that controls whose reinforcements come into the field of battle. Sometimes it is far removed, it's significance only apparent afterwards, when the historians rummage through bodies.
Antoine Vermette is the key terrain for this year's edition of the Ottawa Senators.
Now I really want to make sure people get this in context. He is not our most valuable player like a Kiprusoff, or a Jagr. He will not deliver us from salvation if the Big Line goes cold, or if Morrison is in nets. He is not our best player (I have him ranked ninth amongst forwards). He does not necessarily have to be a top 6 forward (I have him centering the third line, and previous to Arnason's flame out, the fourth).
What he is, is that little bit "extra" that every contending team tries to get at trade deadline, that "critical mass" that takes an already strong team from being "competitive" to being "dominant"
The tipping point of a team changes with every new season. Last season it was Lalime and Spezza. Next year it will most likely be someone else. But this year, it is Vermette.
Of course there is a certain amount of raw material to work with here.
Antoine Vermette. 23 years old. A scoring star in every level he has played at. Entered the NHL as a noted PK and power-play specialist. Now in his second NHL campaign; his first full season with the Senators. Has scored 21 goals, placing him with Fisher for third on the team. Is amongst the league leaders in short handed goals (6) alongside such names as Alfredson and Hossa. Second on the team for goal shooting percentage. Fourth in the league for face-off winning percentage. World class speed; he is the fastest skater on the team. Money in the bank on break-ways. A good shot which he doesn't use enough. Excellent passer. Good sense of puck anticipation . An erratic puck handler ranging from brilliant to bumbling, he has not yet reached the level where he can drive by people in the manner of a Schaeffer or a Fisher.
So all in all a good young player that any team would like to have. Indeed Vermette was the price that every team was asking for at trade deadline time.
Of course now I am saying that for this year's version of the Senators, Vermette is more than just a good young player.
Consider the following:
Of his 21 goals only 3 have been scored in games in which the Senators did not get a point. In other words if Vermette participates to the point where he scores a goal, we usually win the game
Vermette has had only two periods of any line stability this season. Once was during the month of November when he was the center between Schaefer and Havlat. He scored five goals. With Vermette at centre Havlat scored eight of his nine goals during this period.
This period coincided with the peak of the Ottawas Senator's season. They were the most dominant team in the NHL, standing atop the leader standings with five games in hand.
The other period was in March when he was teamed with Kelly and Schubert. He scored five goals. This period coincides with Emery, our back up goalie, breaking the league record for wins in a month.
Up to Nov 30, the date when Vermette was demoted to the fourth line, Ottawa had lost only 3 of 22 games. After the demotion, it took Ottawa only five games to lose that many. Over the next 22 games they lost ten games.
From Jan1 to 08 Feb, and despite having injured forwards, Vermette remained mired on the fourth line with only McGrattan as a line mate. The line would be filled out by rotating players from other lines, resulting only in half shifts. Over that period we lost 9 of 17.
Even during his periods of purgatory though, there were lots of intra game examples where getting Vermette into the game was good for Ottawa's fortunes.
Vs LA Kings - the Kings have the advantage in play and are pressing for the equalizer on a powerplay. Vermette scores his first short hander and we win going away.
Vs Toronto - Midway through the second period, an evenly played game is tied one-one. Bochenski hurts his shoulder. Vermette is moved up in the rotation. We start to immediately dominate and win the game 8-1. Vermette contributes 1 goal and 1 assist.
Vs Philadelphia - We are down 4-0 in the first period. Murray shortens bench and puts Vermette back up in the rotation. He scores the first goal and we win the next two periods but fall short 4-3
vs Carolina - Kelly gets thrown out early in the game for instigating after retaliating for a dirty hit. Vermette is moved up in the rotation. He contributes a goal and a assist and we win 6-2 over a strong Hurricanes squad.
vs Pittsburgh - we are down 2-0 in the first period. Vermette scores a short hander. We go on to win going away 7-2
vs Tampa Bay - With Kelly, Vermette kills a crucial penalty with Alfredson in the box while down 3-1. Vermette and Kelly have many chances to score and change the momentum of the game. Murray shortens bench with Vermette up with Arnason and Smolinski. We catch up and win in over time.
vs. Boston. - Down 2-0 Murray shortens bench and again Vermette is put up in the rotation. He scores the tying goal, but we lose in a shoot-out.
Anyway I think you get my drift. Put Vermette with two decent players and a regular shift and we dominate play. Don't and we become very ordinary.
Who should those two players be? Any two who are not McGrattan and Varada, and who are not part of the Big Line. I have suggested Kelly and Eaves. Kelly and Schubert has also proven to be a success. I don't think it matters. Let him centre Neil and Schubert and see what happens.
So another big key to getting well, and to our success in the playoffs is to recognize, the pattern that has been established all season long, and to make sure that Vermette is properly placed in our line-up.