Vermette primed to help lead Coyotes' return to the playoffs

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(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) By Rich Lam (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) By Rich Lam
SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 24:  Antoine Vermette #50 of the Phoenix Coyotes in action against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on January 24, 2013 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) By Ezra Shaw SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 24: Antoine Vermette #50 of the Phoenix Coyotes in action against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on January 24, 2013 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) By Ezra Shaw

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Antoine Vermette does not believe in individual glory. He does not think that a gaudy goal tally means much if the team does not post the victories to match. Without a playoff run, a player’s season was a failure.

It is that philosophy that keeps Vermette from being satisfied with his performance last season.

“The playoffs are where you want to play and we didn’t play there,” the Phoenix Coyotes’ center says of last season.

Last season's team regression, which Vermette attributes in part to a lack of training camp and the Coyotes' defensive struggles, overshadowed what was an encouraging comeback year for him.

After scoring a career-high 27 goals in 2009-2010 for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Vermette’s scoring dropped. By the time he was dealt to Phoenix in February of 2012, his goal total had dropped to just eight through the season's first 60 games.

However, during Phoenix's magical postseason run to the Western Conference Finals that spring, Vermette’s scoring touch returned in force. He found the net five times in 16 games, and his 10 points led the team.

The momentum of that hot finish carried over into last season. His 13 goals in the lockout-shortened year tied for the team lead, and his offensive return to form was one of the bright spots for the franchise.

Yet keeping true to his team-first mentality, Vermette was not pleased. To him, goals and assists are worthless if they don’t result in wins.

“You evaluate your season, even individually, through the team,” Vermette said. “If you have a good season point-wise, and you are not part of the playoffs, that’s not good enough. I believe that a successful team makes the individual look good. I wasn’t absolutely pleased with the way we played and I played even though, scoring-wise, I was on a better pace than the previous year.”

While Vermette is looking to continue his scoring resurgence this year, he understands that value on a hockey rink goes beyond the stat sheet, especially in head coach Dave Tippett’s system. In order to remain one of the team’s most valuable players, let alone stay in the lineup, Vermette must be a complete player.

“Play my game and play with confidence,” said Vermette of his keys to being successful. “Go to the net and do my things. I’ve been around quite a bit and time passed by quick. Just try to contribute. That’s my thing. Find a way. Some nights, you’re going to score. Some nights, you’re not. If it’s winning a faceoff, being good on penalty killing, or being solid defensively, you must find a way to help your team.”

To help prepare him for this year, his tenth in the NHL, Vermette focused his work on his offseason work on conditioning. That included spending significant time off of the ice in order to return in top physical shape.

“I like to work on my game overall,” Vermette said. “A lot of stuff is off the ice. I have a good guy preparing me back home. I’ve been training with him for 15 years now. I always do that and try to get an edge right off the bat and come in good shape.”

Thanks to the new ownership group, the Coyotes franchise finally has stable financial footing. That allowed them to make a major splash in free agency to help address the Coyotes’ 21st-ranked offense.

Just days after team’s future in Phoenix was secured, they signed center Mike Ribeiro away from the Washington Capitals. Ribeiro is among the NHL’s premier playmakers, and his ability to set up his teammates figures to make an immediate impact on the Coyotes’ attack. 

“He’s going to be good, no doubt about that,” said Vermette. “He’s a creative guy, a skilled guy. He makes plays. He’s another weapon for us that we can use and another threat for the opponent.”

Vermette’s own contract runs through the 2014-2015 season at a value of $3.75-million each year. Having just turned 31, and not having missed a game in over four seasons, Vermette appears to have plenty of good hockey left in him. With the future of hockey secured in Phoenix, he is looking to remain a Coyote for the long term.

“It’s great. This is a great place,” Vermette said. “My wife and I love it here. It’s a great organization. Good group of guys from top to bottom. Good individuals within the organization. We are very thrilled about the stability, which is something we didn’t have for a long time. We’re looking forward to building something solid from this point on, and never look back.”

But first things first. 

Coming off last season’s disappointing finish, Vermette has just one thing in mind: Playoffs. He’s not setting any individual goals in terms of scoring or other stats. At the end of the day, he just wants to help contribute to a playoff run.

“You want to get into the playoffs,” said Vermette. “I’m not a big guy with numbers and all that. I like to chip in offensively, but my main thing is to make myself the best player I can be to contribute to the success of the team.”