Radim Vrbata is heading back to Florida, and the hope for all involved has to be that his new, bonus-laden, one-year deal with the Panthers works out far better than his first stint in the Sunshine State, a tenure that lasted all of 18 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On this day nine years ago, the Lightning inked Vrbata, who was coming off of his breakout 27-goal, 56-point season with the Coyotes, to a three-year, $9-million contract. A combination of on- and off-ice issues hampered Vrbata’s play, though, and the winger came out of the gate flat on his new deal. By the time two months had passed, Vrbata was still struggling to find his scoring touch, putting up a mere three goals and six points and sliding down the lineup to the point he was skating fourth-line minutes. That led Vrbata, who was battling confidence issues as his wife dealt with pregnancy complications, to leave the team and head back to the Czech Republic.
Vrbata was back in the NHL the following campaign and shipped back to the Coyotes as his game got back to normal. Over the next five seasons in Arizona, Vrbata scored 110 goals and 232 points in 352 games before moving on to Vancouver in 2014-15. Vrbata’s first year with the Canucks was a brilliant 31-goal, 63-point campaign, a career year for the veteran winger, but he managed just 13 goals and 27 points in 2015-16, leading him to sign a one-year, $1-million deal with the Coyotes that was chock full of bonus money.
But after another solid 20-goal, 55-point season in Arizona, Vrbata finds himself on the move again, and he’s signed a deal with the Panthers that closely mirrors the contract he inked little more than one year ago. In Arizona this past season, Vrbata had the chance to earn $2.25 million in performance bonuses, and he’s got a chance to bring down $1.25 million in bonuses this coming campaign.
The incentives on top of his $2.5 million base contract aren’t hard to follow, either. At 10 goals, 15 goals and 20 goals, Vrbata will earn an extra $250,000. Additionally, another $250,000 will come his way if he manages 45 points. The final $250,000 bonus will come Vrbata’s way if, and only if, the Panthers make the post-season. And given the makeup of the squad in Florida, there’s a fair chance that can come to fruition.
The signing isn’t a massive gamble for the Panthers — either Vrbata clicks or he doesn’t, and he can be gone after this campaign either way — but it is worth wondering where exactly the Panthers see him fitting into the lineup. The 36-year-old isn’t as fleet of foot as he once was and though he’s still a solid shooter, he’s not going to be as effective as his early days. It is also somewhat of a head-scratcher given Florida seemed as though they wanted to get younger.
However, losing Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Jaromir Jagr, who the Panthers let walk, leaves Florida looking to replace 61 goals, and the hope is the bonus structure lights a fire under Vrbata and he blasts his way to at least 20 goals, replacing at least one-third of what has been lost.