On July 1st, Jim Benning was quick to say that he wasn’t done in free agency with the addition of Ryan Miller. He said they would continue to look at the secondary free agent market — the lesser lights, as it were — for scoring help. Considering the Canucks were third last in goalscoring last season, it was a necessary move to ensure that the Canucks top offensive prospects weren’t going to be asked to do too much, too soon.
Vrbata was obviously not the biggest name in free agency and is an obvious step down from the likes of Mike Cammalleri, Thomas Vanek, and Paul Stastny. He also doesn’t fill the vacant second-line centre role, meaning Nick Bonino will likely start the season there. He is, however, a legitimate top-six forward on a short-term deal, so there’s a lot to like.
The only issue is that he isn’t a second-line centre, but he does replace Ryan Kesler in one way: he wore 17 with the Coyotes.
According to reports, the deal is for two years, $10 million. $5 million per year is a significant raise from his previous two contracts, which both paid $3 million per year, but the shorter term makes that more understandable. Vrbata has spent the last five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes and was in discussions with the Arizona Coyotes to return.
But #Coyotes offer was a “significant reduction” to what Vrbata took from Canucks, Maloney said, although it was a long-term deal.
— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) July 3, 2014
The shorter term was likely palatable to Vrbata not just because of the bigger paycheque, but also because he has a good shot of spending at least part of the season with the Sedins. He’s two years removed from a 35-goal season with the offensively-challenged Coyotes, so playing with two elite playmakers like the Sedins has to be a tempting proposition.
Agent says #Canucks have told Vrbata will play with Sedins
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) July 3, 2014
If he does play with the Sedins, it will be the first time the twins will have a legitimate goalscorer on their line, depending on your opinion of Alex Burrows. Vrbata has scored 20+ goals in 4 seasons, 18 and 19 in two other seasons, and 12 goals and 28 points in 34 games in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
Alternately, Vrbata could provide some scoring punch to the second line, with either Burrows or Zack Kassian on the top line. The big question is whether Bonino can get him the puck. While Bonino has reasonable vision and has proven to be more of a passer than a shooter in the past, he’s coming off a career-year that was partly percentage driven.
Vrbata has strong underlying numbers at even-strength and is also an effective player on the power play, scoring 21 of his 51 points last season with the man advantage, including 10 goals. He has been fairly reliable in the shootout throughout his career, scoring 34 times on 80 attempts for a 42.5% success rate. That would make him second behind Nick Bonino on the Canucks and he has more than twice as many shootout attempts as Alex Burrows, who now has second-most on the Canucks.
Basically, Vrbata is a reasonably good top-six forward who can contribute in a number of ways. The $5 million cap hit is a lot, but the term makes that palatable.
Since he’s signed for only two seasons, he shouldn’t hold any prospects back from making an impact long-term. This allows Nicklas Jensen and Hunter Shinkaruk to at least start the season in the AHL, which is ideal for their development.
But really, the reason I like this signing is the number of terrible “verb” puns we’ll be able to make this season. Either that or his nickname will just be a different verb each game. Radim “Jump” Vrbata. Radim “Placate” Vrbata. Radim “Argue” Vrbata. That won’t get old at all.Tags: Radim Vrbata