For the first time in six seasons, it appears that Radim Vrbata will don a uniform that doesn't belong to the Phoenix Coyotes.
OK, so with the team's name change to the Arizona Coyotes, that was always going to be true, but the 33-year-old unrestricted free agent isn't expected to re-sign with general manager Dave Maloney's squad.
The writing on the wall was evident Sunday when the 'Yotes acquired Sam Gagner and B.J. Crombeen from the Tampa Bay Lightning. FoxSportsArizona.com's Craig Morgan explained:
When asked specifically if the Gagner trade closed the door on a return by wing Radim Vrbata, Maloney said the Coyotes would love to have him back, but the asking price is currently too high.
Vrbata is believed to be seeking a three-to-four year deal at an average annual value of $4.5 million. Given the Coyotes' financial constraints and Vrbata's age (33) that is probably too much.
Maloney, via Morgan, further explained his roster-building strategy:
Maloney: "A lot of us are looking into the FA market to see if we can fill holes there rather than spend an asset in the draft or elsewhere"— Craig Morgan (@cmorganfoxaz) June 28, 2014
Assets are important for Arizona, a penny-pinching franchise looking to get younger. As such, bringing back a veteran whose price will only be driven up in a thin market doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Still, Morgan doesn't believe it's quite time to rule out the Coyotes:
Don't count out Radim Vrbata just yet. Remember, public comments from both sides this time of year often contain a good amount of posturing.— Craig Morgan (@cmorganfoxaz) June 28, 2014
Vrbata tallied 51 points (20 goals and 31 assists) in 80 games for the Coyotes last season, finishing with a plus/minus of minus-six. He has finished with at least 40 points in four of the last five seasons (the only exception an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign), including a 62-point season in 2011-12.
According to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, there is plenty of interest in his services:
7-8 teams interested in UFA winger Radim Vrbata but Coyotes also remain in mix. Arizona and Vrbata camp should speak again before Tuesday— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 30, 2014
The Sun Sentinel's Harvey Fialkov reported the Florida Panthers are among the potential suitors:
Panthers need RWs but most top UFA are centers and LW. Ive been told they're one of 7 teams talking to Radim Vrbata's agent. #flapanthers— Harvey Fialkov (@hfialkov) June 30, 2014
TSN's Aaron Ward added a few more:
Appears to be 5-6 teams expressing interest in Radim Vrbata. Teams include TB,MTL,SJ and BOS. #TSN— Aaron Ward (@aaronward_nhl) June 30, 2014
Vrbata may not be a sexy option on the free-agent market, but the Czechoslovakian has proven to be a consistent offensive option on the wing. Playoff teams looking for a solid veteran at a fairly cheap price would be wise to look in his direction.
WGR550's Matthew Coller put it simply:
Radim Vrbata is the same age as Marian Gaborik, will probably be close in production and will make way, way less money— Matthew Coller (@MatthewWGR) June 26, 2014
Free agency is set to begin Tuesday, but with so many teams apparently ready to go after Vrbata, it may be some time before he ultimately signs somewhere.
However, one thing is clear at this point: It would be surprising if the Coyotes turned out to be the team to win the bidding war.