The Ottawa Senators face a tough predicament.
Free-agency period began over two weeks ago, yet there are still significant items on Bryan Murray's to-do list. Murray faces the task of resigning Andrej Meszaros and Antoine Vermette, two restricted free agents who should see a salary increase before the puck drops in October.
In the case of Meszaros, the Sens' brass believe they can sign him to a multi-year contract to keep him in the organization once he hits his prime. Both Sens' coaches and team management are very high on the 22-year-old Slovak defenseman, and hope to keep him in the fold as long as possible.
But for Vermette, it's not that simple. Rumor is that Ottawa would keep him only if his price tag fits the team's budget. Contract negotiations fell through, and the team has elected to go to salary arbitration to settle the dispute. If his contract is over $3.3 million annually, the team will most likely ship him to a suitor who be able to return a player of near-equal value.
The question that surrounds Vermette is simple:
"Is he worth keeping at a high value?'"
Murray made clear that he wanted Vermette to play on the second line by trading Peter Schaefer to Boston last summer. Vermette finished this season with 24 goals, 29 assists, and 53 points—all of which are career highs for the St. Agapi native.
Vermette can play both centre and left wing, which makes him a versatile player who can play on a line with Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly. He's a smooth skater who has a nice pair of hands. It also doesn't hurt that he is one of the best penalty-killers in the league and remains an offensive threat on the PK.
I believe that the best is still to come when we talk about Vermette. It's evident that he has great potential, but the Senators would like it to come sooner rather than later. They need secondary scoring in a big way—and for Vermette to supply that, he has to be consistent for all 82 games and (hopefully) four rounds of playoffs.
At the end of last year, Vermette was one of the few bright spots as the Senators were collapsing. He had 10 goals and 16 points in the last month of the season, including his first-ever NHL hat trick in an 8-2 blowout of the Leafs in Game 81 of the regular season.
This kid has plenty of upside, but in reality the Senators can't wait forever for him to break out. The Sens will most likely want to sign him for a multi-year deal worth anywhere between $3.5-4 million per season, which would top off their salary cap space.
Hopefully, Hartsburg can get the best out of Vermette, and teach him how to carry success from game to game. If he can get Vermette to play with a greater deal of consistency, the Sens will have a speedster who can really do some damage.