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PHT interviews Don Maloney, who knows he has a big trade chip in Vermette

Arizona Coyotes v Nashville Predators

Arizona Coyotes v Nashville Predators

NHLI via Getty Images

Arizona GM Don Maloney understands the quality he’s got in Antoine Vermette.

So too, it seems, do a number of other NHL clubs.

“Antoine has been a good player for us, continues to be a good player for us,” Maloney told PHT on Monday. “There are a lot of teams interested in him.”

The 32-year-old will be a prized target leading up to this year’s trade deadline. Vermette is remarkably well-rounded -- leading the Coyotes in scoring, winning draws at a 55 percent clip, known for his solid two-way game -- and plays the middle, which is vitally important given the league-wide arms race at that particular position.

“We all know hard it is to find center ice men in this league,” Maloney noted.

It’s also hard to find ones with Vermette’s versatility.

He led Arizona in goals last year, with 24, and finished 14th in Selke voting (tied with Pavel Datsyuk) for the NHL’s top defensive forward. He was the only Coyotes forward to average more than two minutes per game on both the power play and penalty kill. He also led all Arizona forwards in blocked shots (71), finished with 90 hits in 82 games and played the wing when called upon.

So yeah, versatile.

All of which begs the question -- why would Arizona trade him?

Well, one, the Coyotes believe they have a top-flight center waiting in the wings in Max Domi. The 13th overall pick at the 2013 draft didn’t make the team this season out of training camp, but is still viewed as the club’s pivot of the future, possibly next year.

“Domi’s not going to be a bottom-line player for us,” Maloney said, shooting down the idea of Domi playing a similar role to what fellow ’13 draftee Bo Horvat’s filling in Vancouver. “We need him to be a top-six forward.

“We have lots of guys that can play the third or fourth line. Our problem is top one or two line guys, and that’s where we see Max in the future.”

Two, it’s not like Maloney wants to trade Vermette.

“I think Antoine likes Arizona, likes his role, likes his coach,” Maloney said when asked how he’d try and sell the player on re-signing.

But the market suggests Vermette’s in for a raise on his current (and affordable) $3.75 million cap hit and, if the Coyotes can’t afford to keep him, they might as well get as much in return as they can.

Of course, ownership uncertainty casts a shadow on most things in Arizona, and the Vermette situation is no different.

“Since day one we’ve been waiting on our ownership to be restructured,” Maloney said, “and we’ll continue to wait on that, and once it gets restructured we’ll see whether there’s an opportunity to re-sign him or not.”

While Vermette re-upping with the Coyotes remains a possibility, carrots dangle elsewhere for both parties; the Coyotes could net a bounty of assets in return via trade, while Vermette could join a Stanley Cup contender and still hit free agency. That’s key, since on a potential UFA list that’s light on centers, he’d rank right near the top of available guys.

(This could, theoretically, also be Vermette’s last kick at a significant payday, which is something else to consider.)

In light of all this, Vermette doesn’t seem long for the desert. Even Maloney said he’s unsure what the future will hold in terms of organizational direction and philosophy, which makes the “re-sign here!” pitch difficult.

“It’s been a little bit of a holding pattern in the sense of you always want to know when the majority owner comes in, what he’s thinking,” Maloney explained. “Is it more of a rebuild? Is it more of a infusion of more resources available?

“So we’ve been waiting on that.”

Related: Vermette is the Coyotes’ Bergeron, says Tippett