Other teams probably could have offered Radim Vrbata $10 million over two years. What the Vancouver Canucks had that the competition didn’t was the chance to play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
So when general manager Jim Benning suggested it, Vrbata took it as another reason to sign with the Canucks.
“He was saying that they were looking for somebody to play with Sedins and that they think I could be the guy,” Vrbata said on a conference call Thursday. “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.”
It’ll be up to coach Willie Desjardins to form the lines, Benning said, but it was part of the plan to give Vrbata an opportunity with the Sedins. Benning likes that Vrbata can read plays and jump into holes.
Vrbata, who had 20 goals and 31 assists in his final season with the defensive-minded Arizona Coyotes, will be counted on to produce more if he’s Vancouver’s top-line right-winger. He doesn’t mind that pressure.
“If you play with players like Sedins, you know that you will get your chances,” Vrbata said. “When I think about the way they play, that kind of suits my game, I think. They like lots of give-and-go’s and they like to get open for each other. I think that’s something that I like to do, too.”
The addition of Vrbata could push Alex Burrows out of that spot. The 33-year-old who had been a regular linemate with the Sedins since 2010 had just five goals and 10 assists in 49 games this past season.
Benning sees Burrows as the second-line right-winger alongside centre Nick Bonino—acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in the Ryan Kesler trade—and either Zack Kassian or Jannik Hansen.
“We want to have balance amongst our four lines. We want to have scoring, we want to have scoring depth,” Benning said. “Now we have depth at the forward positions where every line can contribute in the scoring, and that’s one of the things that we set out to do.”
Signing Vrbata could be the last major move in unrestricted free agency this summer for the Canucks, who got veteran goaltender Ryan Miller on Tuesday for $18 million over three years.
“For the most part we’re done,” Benning said. “We wanted to address a couple things to make our team a complete team going into this next season, and I think we’ve done that. … We’re going to probably go into the season with this team and we’re going to see where we stand and go from there.”
Vrbata fit on that checklist because the Canucks wanted to add a scorer. Benning said there were some possibilities on Day One, but when they didn’t materialize, the 33-year-old Czech became a priority.
“For us, he plays a 200-foot game,” Benning said. “He plays in all three zones and he’s got real good hockey sense and hands to finish. He’s going to help us on our power play.”
And in the shootout. Vrbata had five goals on 12 attempts last season.
But it’s the goals he could help produce alongside the Sedins that made Vrbata particularly attractive to the Canucks, and vice-versa. Vrbata understands he might not spend 80 games with Daniel and Henrik but doesn’t sound like he’d complain about doing that.
“I’m a big, big believer in chemistry and kind of synergy,” Vrbata said. “I feel like when you have chemistry with somebody, that helps so much in today’s league where sometimes it’s so tight and if you can really trust and gain advantage by knowing the guys you’re on a line (with).”
Notes—The Canucks lost Mike Santorelli in free agency after the centre signed a US$1.5-million, one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Benning said Vrbata got the nod over Santorelli because he has been a more consistent scorer over a longer period of time. … Benning confirmed on a conference call with reporters that Travis Green would be back as coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets.
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