Radim Vrbata didn't generate much attention during the initial surge of free-agent signings. In fact, he wasn't even the most notable addition to his new team, the Vancouver Canucks, which also inked star netminder Ryan Miller.
Yet, the veteran winger's contributions could very well end up being just as important to the Canucks as Miller or any other signing. Given his track record, he signed for a reasonable $5 million per season over two years.
Vrbata spent the past five seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored at least 20 goals three times during that span and also netted 27 during a previous stint in Phoenix. The most he scored during any of his other stops was 18.
He never ruled out returning to the team, but progress toward a new deal was sluggish and the sides weren't able to reach an agreement.
Nothing changed in the immediate aftermath of the regular season, which saw Arizona miss the playoffs by three points. In turn, Vrbata hit the open market with a strong recent track record, as well as uncertainty about how he would perform outside of the desert.
Now we'll find out. In a pretty deep free-agent class, he didn't create a ton of buzz. So he signed a deal that could provide real solid value if he lives up to his recent standards.
After the deal was signed, The Canadian Press (via TSN) passed along comments from Vrbata, who said one idea offered up by general manager Jim Benning turned the tide in Vancouver's favor:
He was saying that they were looking for somebody to play with Sedins and that they think I could be the guy. I feel like with the way they play and the way they see the game, it's something that would probably suit my game. Yeah, it was real interesting to have that chance.
If Vrbata can get on the same page as the Sedin twins, who have that special natural chemistry, they could create one of the league's most dangerous lines. It's a possibility that would be hard to pass up for anybody in his position.
That said, even if he ends up playing on a different line as the Canucks try to distribute their offensive talent, he should be a useful addition. Vancouver finished near the bottom of the league in scoring last season, so anybody with 20-goal talent is going to help.
Count Gus Katsaros of McKeen's Hockey among those who like Vrbata's chances of success based on his advanced stats from last season:
One area where Vrbata should represent an upgrade is on the power play. He averaged nearly three minutes of ice time per game with the man advantage last season with the Coyotes, and 10 of his 20 goals came on the power play.
Furthermore, he reached the 20-goal plateau despite a shooting percentage below his career average. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see him score closer to 25 next season. That would be a low estimate should he play the entire season on a line with the Sedins.
That's assuming he makes a smooth transition to his new surroundings. As mentioned, his numbers while playing for other teams haven't been as strong. But once he gets comfortable, the hope in Vancouver is that he'll provide some much-needed scoring depth.
All told, he could end up as one of the summer's best signings.
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