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Vancouver Canuck Cody Hodgson fights for the puck with Columbus Blue Jacket Antoine Vermette in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2011. (Matt Sullivan/Reuters/Matt Sullivan/Reuters)
Vancouver Canuck Cody Hodgson fights for the puck with Columbus Blue Jacket Antoine Vermette in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2011. (Matt Sullivan/Reuters/Matt Sullivan/Reuters)

Jackets ship Vermette to Coyotes Add to ...

Trade-deadline junkies are still looking for their big fix, although the Antoine Vermette trade on Wednesday at least gave them some hope the Columbus Blue Jackets broke the ice on their fire sale.

Sending Vermette, 29, to the Phoenix Coyotes for a couple of draft picks and a marginal goaltender does not mean Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson signalled he will be unloading his big-ticket items, Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, for certain by the NHL trade deadline next Monday. But at this point people who live for this time of year are ready to seize on anything given the paucity of action.

Just remember, it may make more sense for Howson to wait until the entry draft in June to deal Nash because the return could be higher or the goaltender he would like, but not necessarily has to have, could be available by then.

In the meantime, speaking of goaltenders, keep an eye on Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. He said on the weekend he isn’t looking for one but the latest meltdown of Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer may force his hand, even if it is a temporary fix such as Nikolai Khabibulin. Burke needs to do something to preserve the fragile confidence of his young team.

The trade market lost one of its better baubles on Wednesday when the Carolina Hurricanes signed centre Tuomo Ruutu to a contract extension. ESPN.com reported Ruutu signed for four years at $4.75-million (all currency U.S.) a year.

That might explain why Coyotes general manager Don Maloney turned to the Blue Jackets for Vermette, who has three years past this season left on his contract at a salary-cap hit of $3.75-million. He sent a second-round pick in the 2012 entry draft and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2013, plus goaltender Curtis McElhinney, for the veteran centre. Then again, the price for Ruutu would have been much higher and the Coyotes were not likely to have afforded Ruutu’s new salary.

While Vermette was a significant player with the Blue Jackets, his trade was hardly the blockbuster fans want. Vermette’s production tailed off significantly last season after he had 65 points in 2009-10 and it failed to rise any this season. In 60 games, Vermette had 27 points for Columbus.

However, Maloney needs to beef up his team down the middle for the playoff run. He also has a better cast of wingers – Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney – than the Blue Jackets do, which may get more production out of Vermette, a defensively responsible player who should be a good fit with head coach Dave Tippett.

Since the NHL still owns the Coyotes, Maloney needed the league to sign off on the trade. That was not a major obstacle, since there is only a little more than $900,000 remaining to be paid on Vermette’s salary for this season. At this point, Vermette could become the team’s second-highest-paid player next season depending on what happens with Doan, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but is expected to re-sign with the Coyotes. By present standards, Vermette’s $3.75-million salary is not too big of a lump for the cash-strapped Coyotes to swallow.

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