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

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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

Pickard makes one last bid to stay, beats Wings in nine-round SO

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If Calvin Pickard is sent to the minors after leading Colorado to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings Sunday night, he can at least head there knowing that there was nothing he could have done to change Avalanche coach Patrick Roy and GM Joe Sakic’s minds.

Semyon Varlamov is very likely to return from his groin injury on Tuesday and Roy has previously suggested that Pickard will report to AHL Lake Erie once that happens, but before Pickard’s fate was sealed, he turned aside 34 of 35 shots in regulation tonight and was only beaten twice in a nine-round shootout.

It was the third straight time that Pickard held the Avalanche’s competition to just one goal. He now has a 2.06 GAA and .939 save percentage in 13 games this season.

Fellow youngster Petr Mrazek was sharp at the other end of the ice too, but after stopping 22 of 23 shots through 65 minutes and lasting eight shootout rounds, Jarome Iginla scored what proved to be the winner.

The contest was scoreless until the third period when Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk found the back of the net on a power-play opportunity. Erik Johnson evened the contest with just 4:15 minutes remaining in the third frame.

Colorado has now recorded at least a point in each of its last five games. Detroit has dropped six straight contests, including four in the skills competition.

Red Wings lose fifth in a row, recall McCollum

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The Detroit Red Wings’ frustrations continued on Friday as the New York Islanders handed them their fifth straight loss and Jimmy Howard went down with a lower-body injury.

Detroit seems to be downplaying the severity of Howard’s issue, yet it’s troublesome enough that the team sent Xavier Ouellet down to the minors in exchange for Tom McCollum in case Howard’s day-to-day issue stretches to multiple days, as MLive.com’s Ansar Khan reports.

Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock described it as a “high-level hockey game” and was generally impressed by both teams, but the Red Wings have to be muttering a bit at this five-game stretch.

Three of their losses came via shootouts and all but one was decided by one goal. (Then again, maybe the Islanders simply have Detroit’s number, as they’re 8-1-1 in their last 10 games versus the Red Wings.)

Babcock & Co. have been around the block numerous times, so they’re less likely to cave in to the frustration. And, really, when even stars like Pavel Datsyuk are delivering hits like these, you know the effort is often there:

Watch Live: Maple Leafs at Red Wings (8 p.m. ET)

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The Maple Leafs and Red Wings hook up for the fourth of five meetings tonight when Toronto visits Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Leafs have won back-to-back games and are 6-1-1 in their last eight. The Wings meanwhile have won three straight and are 7-1-0 in their past eight.

Leafs forward Mike Santorelli has been hot of late scoring two goals and adding eight helpers in in his past eight games. Wings sniper Pavel Datsyuk has three goals and seven points in his last four games. He was the league’s first star for last week.

After losing the first two games in the season series, Toronto defeated Detroit at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 22 and will look to even up the season series tonight. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can also watch the game via NBC Sports’ Live Extra stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some related reading prior to puck drop:

Video: Bernier’s infamous Nelson Mandela interview

NHL on NBCSN: Streaking Red Wings, Maple Leafs collide

Get your game note: Leafs at Wings

Get your game notes: Leafs at Wings

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Detroit Red Wings hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Top of the East: At 17-6-5, Detroit has 39 points, which ties the team with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Eastern Conference…

• Since Detroit dropped a 4-1 contest in Toronto on Nov. 22, Detroit has gone 7-1-0 in its last 8 games

• In this 8-game stretch, the Red Wings are averaging 4.00 goals/gm, and have scored 3+ goals in each of those games. DET is now the 4th-highest scoring team in the NHL (3.11 G/GM, behind PIT, TOR, and 1st-place TB).

• The Wings are on a 3-game win streak, defeating DAL, NYR, and CAR by a combined score of 11-5.

• Coach Mike Babcock became the 19th coach – and 2nd fastest – to 500 career wins last Sat. in the win over the Rangers. He then tied Pat Burns with his 501st career win the next day when DET beat CAR. Next up on the list is current Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who has 521 all-time wins.

• Babcock said the following about his team yesterday: “This is the best team we’ve had here since ’09, not necessarily point-wise, but direction-wise” (the ’09 Wings team lost to PIT in the Cup Final).

• Maple Leafs recovery: On Nov. 18, the Maple Leafs allowed 9 goals in a game for the first time since Dec. 1991 in a 9-2 home thrashing at the hands of the Predators. Since then, the Leafs have rebounded to go 6-1-1 in their past 8 games….

• They have scored at least 3 goals in all 8 of those games, and now boast the 2nd-best offense in the NHL, scoring 3.44 goals/game.

• The Leafs are also coming off a 5-game home stand in which they went 4-1-0, including decisive wins in their past two games over VAN (last Saturday) and CGY (yesterday), outscoring those two teams 9-3.

TORONTO TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• The Maple Leafs’ top line of LW James van Riemsdyk, C Tyler Bozak, and RW Phil Kessel are the top three scorers for Toronto this season, and they’ve been particularly effective of late:

• Kessel has 28 points (14G, 14A) in 27 GP this season, including 5 points in his last 5 games after a goal in last night’s 4-1 win over CGY.

• Kessel has led TOR in scoring every season since 2009-10 – the season he was acquired from BOS.

• Bozak is on pace for a career season with 24 points (11G, 13A) in 27 games. While he does not have a point in his last 2 games, Bozak still has 9 points (5G, 4A) in his last 8 games overall.

• Bozak set career-highs with 19 goals and 30 assists last season.

• Van Riemsdyk has 23 points (11G, 12A) in 27 games this season, including 6 in his last 5 games.

• C Mike Santorelli has been on a tear in his last 7 games, posting 2 goals, 8 assists, and a +8 rating in that span.

• Santorelli is 4th on the team in points (19), and is tied with Kessel and Dion Phaneuf for the team lead in assists with 14.

• The 28-year-old is in his first season with the Leafs after stints in NSH, FLA, WPG, and VAN. The Leafs signed him this offseason to a 1-yr/$1.5M contract.

• While G James Reimer and G Jonathan Bernier split time early, Bernier appears to have control of the starting job having made 9 straight starts, the longest stretch of consecutive starts in his career.

• Bernier is 6-2-1 in that stretch, including a win last night vs. Calgary in which he stopped 32 of 33 shots.

• However, Reimer is likely to play tonight, as this is TOR’s first back-to-back stretch since Nov. 15, which was also when Reimer made his last start. In that game, a 6-2 loss in Buffalo, Reimer allowed 6 goals on 35 shots. Overall, Reimer is 4-3-0 with a 3.64 GAA and .898 SV%, both career-worsts for a season.

• Reimer has never defeated DET in his career, posting a 0-3-0 record, 3.96 GAA, and .877 SV%.

DETROIT TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• C Pavel Datsyuk began the season on injured reserve with a separated shoulder (suffered in preseason), and overall he has played in just 17 of the Red Wings’ 28 games.

• Despite this, he is tied for the team lead in goals (12 – with Nyquist and Tatar) and is 2nd in points (22).

• Datsyuk has had multi-point efforts in 4 of his last 5 games, posting 5G, 4A in that stretch.

• Datsyuk had a hand in all 3 goals in DET’s 3-1 win in CAR on Sunday with a goal and 2 assists.

• For his efforts last week, Datsyuk was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week.

• Captain C Henrik Zetterberg has played in all 28 games and leads DET in assists (19) and points (24).

• Zetterberg has been held without a point during the Red Wings’ 3-game winning streak.

• RW Gustav Nyquist is tied for the team lead in goals with 12 (Datsyuk, Tatar).

• Nyquist leads the team in PPG (7) – that ranks him 4th overall in the NHL (3 players have 8 PPG).

• Over the last two seasons, Nyquist has scored 40 goals in 85 games.

• LW Tomas Tatar is the 3rd Red Wing with 12 goals this season (Datsyuk, Nyquist). He is 3rd on the team in points (20).

• G Jimmy Howard is 13-5-4 with a 2.21 GAA and .917 SV% this season. He is 8-3-1 in his last 12 starts.