Coming off of a 24-goal and 53-point season, Antoine Vermette had improved his scoring numbers in each of his four NHL seasons.
With the departure of Cory Stillman via free agency, Vermette was supposed to get plenty of power play time this season, even on the Senators' top unit.
However, after 26 games this season, Vermette, 26, only has two goals and five points, to go along with a minus-eight differential. He has only one assist in the Senators' last 15 games.
He can no longer play on a third line with Chris Kelly and face the opponents' fifth and sixth defensemen now that the Senators are thin upfront without Cory Stillman and Mike Comrie.
Even though he's having a tough year, the St-Agapit, Quebec, native ranks third in the league in face-off winning percentage at 61.8 percent. Vermette has worked very hard to improve this aspect of his game, and it is finally paying off.
The problem is he ranks fourth in the team's faceoffs taken, behind Kelly, Fisher, and Spezza. Maybe if Hartsburg was letting Vermette take more faceoffs, his line would get the puck more often—and therefore control the puck longer and create more scoring chances.
The Senators re-signed Vermette on July 31, 2008, to a two-year, $2.525 million contract, hoping he would put the same numbers as last year. However, Vermette is having problems putting the puck into the net.
Despite poor offensive numbers, he is having plenty of scoring chances and he is shooting at the net more often than not—he is on pace for more than 200 shots this season.
Vermette currently plays on a line with Mike Fisher and Sean Donovan—not exactly great offensive players. Fisher is also having a rough year, and Donovan is more of a grinder than a finisher.
Hartsburg must really try other line combinations, as the current lines are not working anymore. Give quality linemates to Vermette and it's a matter of time before he starts producing as he's having excellent offensive instincts, on-ice vision and soft hands.
Maybe the best thing that could happen to Antoine Vermette would be a change of scenery—whether Bryan Murray trades him to another team, or replaces Hartsburg with a more suitable coach for Vermette.