After seasons in Colorado, Carolina and Chicago, it was as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes that Radim Vrbata really established himself as an offensive threat and a steady point producer in the NHL. Now, after two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, it appears Vrbata is ready to return to the desert.
According to Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan, Vrbata is nearing a one-year deal with Arizona which will see him return for a third stint with the Coyotes. Morgan reported the deal could become official Monday.
Vrbata’s return to Arizona wasn’t exactly an expected outcome, but it’s one that makes sense for the 35-year-old winger. Though he had the highest scoring season of his career in his first campaign with the Canucks — Vrbata scored 31 goals and 63 points while playing primarily with the Sedins — the longest consistent stretch of productive play came when Vrbata was a Coyote. And in Arizona, Vrbata would be almost assured a top-six role, meaning he could be in line for another 20-goal campaign.
This past season was a trying one for Vrbata, who scored just 13 goals and 27 points in 63 games while watching his average ice time dip down to roughly 16 minutes per game. The 2015-16 campaign marked the second-lowest production of Vrbata’s career, behind only his third season in the league when he was a fourth-liner for the Hurricanes and contributed 12 goals and 25 points in 80 games.
Before the struggles of the 2015-16 season, Vrbata was one of the most lethal — and maybe most underrated — goal-scoring wingers in the league. From 2009-10 to 2014-15, Vrbata’s 141 goals were the 27th-most of any player in the league and put him in the same company as Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa, Matt Moulson and Patrick Sharp over that seven-season span.
There’s no reason to believe Vrbata’s ability has fallen off as sharply as his production during the past season may have made it seem, either. He’s a career 9.3 percent shooter and he was nearly three percent worse this past season at 6.5 percent. Given the opportunity to play a bigger role there’s a good chance Vrbata gets back up around the 20-goal mark this coming season.
Beyond production, though, signing Vrbata fills a need for the Coyotes, especially as no resolution to the Tobias Rieder contract situation appears to be in sight. Vrbata can immediately slot in as a top-six winger and potentially provide a veteran presence on a line with Dylan Strome or Christian Dvorak.
According to ESPN's Craig Custance, the deal shouldn't cost the Coyotes too much, either. The deal will reportedly carry a base cap hit around $1 million, but will have a number of performance bonuses that could pump up Vrbata's salary.
It's a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for the Coyotes, and GM John Chayka continues to have quite the impressive off-season in Arizona.
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