How Coyotes' ownership uncertainty could cost the club Antoine Vermette
Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes would prefer to extend first-line center Antoine Vermette, a pending unrestricted free agent, but continued budgetary concerns have tied general manager Don Maloney's hands. 

At this juncture Maloney is simply unable to make Vermette an offer.

"He's an important player for us, and we hope we can make a deal that makes sense for both parties," Maloney told Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic in late November.

The 2015 free agent market is likely to prove extraordinarily thin, especially when it comes to available centermen. Maloney understands that the scarcity of quality pivots increases the stakes of these particular negotiations.

"I think everybody in hockey knows you need to be strong down the middle to have a chance to win," Maloney said. "So, consequently, it's a hard position to fill, to find, and that's why when you have them, you hate to lose them."

In real terms there are two top of the roster options poised to be available to clubs in need of help down the middle this summer: Vermette and former Coyotes player Mike Ribeiro. Though, Ribeiro surely isn't a consideration for Maloney.

That the phrase "clubs in need of help down the middle" describes the vast majority of NHL teams, it only compounds this issue further by increasing the probable demand for Vermette's services should he hit the open market.  

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggested on Friday that Vermette could net north of $6 million per year were the Coyotes able to get their books in order and come to the table:

The hardest thing for the Coyotes is it sounds like they would really like to make an offer to Antoine Vermette. Before the season, GM Don Maloney said he wanted to do it and was prepared to negotiate after the puck dropped - something he generally frowns upon. He wouldn’t talk numbers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the first digit was a six. Since Vermette will be 33 in July, the tougher conversation would probably be term. Regardless, Maloney can’t do anything amidst all this uncertainty.

If the Coyotes actually are willing to offer Vermette upwards of $6 million annually in extension talks, it seems likely that the 32-year-old two-way ace - a useful asset for sure, but certainly not a star by any definition - could demand even more than that should his agent spend July 1 fielding calls from interested teams. 

The Coyotes, meanwhile, are in limbo, as they've been for much of their recent history. IceArizona - the group that currently owns the team - was presumed to be close to selling a majority stake in the club to hedgefund manager Andrew Barroway, but that deal is reportedly in jeopardy

Earlier in the fall, Maloney had hoped that a potential sale of the club to Barroway might give him the breathing room necessary to open negotiations with Vermette.

"I don’t anticipate a real dramatic change in direction here, but (the potential sale) does impact how we move going forward," Maloney told Sportsnet's Chris Johnston in early November. "Whether we have more (money) available for the hockey team, or less available, or what is our (budget)? It’s not only this year, but the next three to five years, what is our projection?"

Maloney also admitted to Johnston that while he'd engaged Vermette's agent Allan Walsh in preliminary extension talks prior to the start of the season, he didn't have the necessary clarity to continue that conversation. 

If the Barroway deal isn't consummated, then budgetary limbo will remain the status quo for Maloney and the Coyotes. In which case expect to hear Vermette's name with baffling frequency as the March 3 trade deadline draws nearer. 

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How Coyotes' ownership uncertainty could cost the club Antoine Vermette
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