Thomas
DeChastelain
Memorial Archives

A Letter To The Ottawa Senators About Antoine Vermette
posted Dec 6, 2005 at 07:01PM

To the Management and Coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators,

As ardent Senators fans, my wife and I always cheer when the team scores a goal, but we really leaped to our feet when Antoine Vermette scored that short handed goal against Los Angeles.

In our estimation, Vermette is the most underrated player on the Senators line-up, if not the whole conference. When one just focuses on him, you don't have to be a world class talent scout to see that he is a beautifully fast skater, has great hands, and "touch". It bothers us that everyone, media included, seem to be down on him because he isn't filling the net with pucks.

Hasn't anyone noticed that the play of the fourth line and especially Kelly, picked up -- the second Vermette joined them?

Doesn't anyone remember that Havlat had his six goal flurry while playing with Vermette?

Remember, Chris Neil started finding his inner offensive gift when playing last season with Spezza, and yes, Vermette. It was perhaps the best fourth line ever -- and of course not used in the playoffs.

It is ironic but true, that for many players with superior talent and instincts, that there is period where things must first be "calibrated" before the on-ice statistics back up what should be obvious to the casual observer. In other words, that Vermette is on the verge of being a franchise player. If Vermette was a gold stock, I would be telling my clients to mortgage their lungs and buy with both fists.

There are plenty of examples. Havlat displayed some of his skills early, but it took a while before the highlight reel goals became consistent.

We almost lost Spezza last season, with Martin getting on his case to the point he couldn't see straight. I remember Spezza mentioning to a TV reporter that he was "thinking too much." For a player based on sheer talent and instinct "thinking too much" is death.

But perhaps the best example is Guy Lafleur. For his first two or three years he was completely snake-bitten - from hitting goal posts to his passes not being caught, and people were wondering what was going on. But to their credit the Canadiens management kept playing him and didn't give up on him. Then one year he takes off his helmet -- and he becomes a superstar.

Sometimes "calibrations" can be the littlest thing, a public vote of confidence from the coach. A heart to heart from another established player. Look at Spezza. Lemieux takes him to dinner and tells him he can be a dominant player. The same year, Senators management makes it clear that he will be their number one guy. No one gets on his case now when he coffs up the puck or tries to force a pass through a herd of opposing sticks, they just let him play. Last season Alfie coffed up the puck a lot but it didn't matter, hell Redden coffed up the puck in the last minute of two deciding play off games, but no one doubts his value to the team. It is just the nature of the game.

You may think we are upset that Vermette is on the fourth line. That's not true, even when you include the thought that agent-whining takes priority in player line-up placement over developing players with genuine star talent.

We are upset that it is being described in terms of punishment. That Vermette is in the "dog house" as some of the media call it. Number one, the fourth line is part of the team, and no part of being on the Senators should be described in such terms.

Actually we think that Vermette being on the fourth line for a bit can be very good if it is pitched right. Tell him he is on the fourth line because you want to force him to take a leadership role on the ice. Tell him that you want him to carry the play, that's right, to "hog the puck", to "show off" and play offensively with abandon. Kelly is a good, speedy player and meshes well with Vermette. McGratton reminds us of Chris Neil last season, but he should be told to use his size and strength to charge the net and prepare for rubber heading his way.

When playing on other lines, Vermette has a tendency to defer too much to his line mates. He needs to put his own mark on the ice.

However, no doubt, we feel that this should just be a temporary affair. The Spezza line is a wonder to behold, but a single dominant line is not enough to assure us victory in the playoffs. Don't get me wrong we have lots of good quality players but there is only one combination of players that have the potential to match the main line. That is Schaeffer, Havlat and Vermette. These three have the kind of natural instinctive, offensive talents that you cannot drill into players, or even teach. It is the kind of talent that is distrusted by coaches who swear too much on systems. It is one of the reasons that Ottawa never had those intangibles to go all the way.

This combination should be put back together as soon as Havlett is back in form. They then need to be told that they are it, and left together so they can develop that chemistry that is so evident in the Spezza line. No over coaching, no over tinkering. Coaches need that right "touch" as well, and I am confident that coach Murray understands the gist of this letter.

PS

Is there any way you can forward this to Mr. Vermette. We just want him to know that we love watching him play and know that in time he is going to really knock people's socks off.

PPS.

Emery needs more gametime. Hasek should not play back to back games, especially if he decides to play in the Olympics. Wear and tear is accumulative and the Cup finals is a long ways away. Emery needs to get time against other elite teams. He has the goods and there should be no problem there. Indeed before the season started I was telling people that Emery would be the true goaltending story of the season.

PPPS. As far a "name" for the Spezza line, we suggest "The Crunch" line. That is because starting from that very first game in Toronto it became obvious that this is the line that is going to on the ice in the crunch.

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