Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…
Radim Vrbata’s time with the Canucks can be summed up as a difference of night and day from his first season in Vancouver to the second.
With free agency approaching, that team could lose the skilled veteran forward for nothing after failing to move him at this year’s trade deadline.
After signing for two years at a total of $10 million with the Canucks in the summer of 2014 — Jim Benning’s second big signing in his early tenure as GM — Vrbata was sold on the idea of playing on the right wing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Deft playmakers with the puck, it seemed like the perfect fit, especially given Vrbata’s mentality to shoot and his right shot.
Vrbata was matched up with the Sedin twins in that first season. In the 565 minutes of five-on-five time together, they had strong possession numbers and were productive as well, with 2.23 goals-for per 60 minutes and 1.59 goals-against per 60 minutes, as per stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
Vrbata scored 31 goals that season. And 63 points in 79 games. Twelve of those goals were on the power play, as were 23 of those points.
But the 2015-16 season was entirely the opposite. He scored 13 goals and 27 points in 63 games.
Vrbata’s time on a line with the Sedins was drastically reduced — between 169:30 to 173:24 at even strength. His production slipped in part because of a slow start, no points in the first six games. He played most of the season with sophomore center Bo Horvat and spent more time on a line with rookie Jared McCann than the twins.
He seemed increasingly frustrated, as the Canucks pushed in a new direction with younger players and with last summer’s trade of Nick Bonino.
“At my age, I know what my game needs to be successful,” Vrbata told Postmedia. “That’s why I signed here in the first place, to play with Hank and Danny.
“This year it was a different story. Nothing really clicked. It’s so hard to be successful if you don’t have chemistry. There just wasn’t the right chemistry.”
So, yeah, to reiterate, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back in Vancouver.
OK. So, what could be next?
Vrbata is about to turn 35 years old but is only a year removed from that 31-goal campaign.
Under the old management regime with Don Maloney as GM, the Coyotes and Vrbata actually seemed close to a new deal two years ago before he inked with Vancouver. The line in the sand appeared to be over no-trade/no-movement clauses.
In May, the Coyotes hired 26-year-old John Chayka as their new GM, but they also gave head coach Dave Tippett the title of executive vice president of hockey operations. Chayka will work side-by-side with Tippett, Vrbata’s former coach, on hockey personnel decisions.
Vrbata’s best collection of seasons came when he was with Tippett and the Coyotes, a team with only eight forwards under contract for next season, as per General Fanager.
Is past history enough to open up the possibility for a future reunion between Vrbata and Tippett? Or has that ship sailed given the new direction with the Coyotes.
Citing Vrbata’s agent, Rich Evans, the Vancouver Sun reported in March of 2015 that Vrbata had “at least six teams were bidding for his services.”
It will be interesting to see how many teams show interest in Vrbata this summer, following two polar opposite seasons in Vancouver.