The Arizona Coyotes made a historic playoff run in 2012, partially thanks to the regular season effort of Radim Vrbata. Now rumor has it Arizona is interested in bringing Vrby back to the desert.
Radim Vrbata is one of the best free agents still on the market and the Arizona Coyotes may be in on him.
Since Vancouver opted to overpay Loui Ericsson early on in free agency, Vrbata’s chances of heading back to Vancouver appear to be slim, so the option is there.
Moreover, while many had expected that the Arizona Coyotes’ youth movement was about to ramp up full swing and fewer “filler” free agents would be signed in the coming years, many journalists including local Coyotes beat writer Craig Morgan have linked Vrbata back to his former team.
These rumors beg the following questions; where does Vrbata fit, how much is his play worth and in the end, does bringing Vrbata back to the desert really help the Coyotes break back into the playoffs?
Does Vrbata fit in the team’s line projections?
Currently, the Arizona Coyotes lineup appears to have two openings, one winger and one center.
Vrbata could slot right into that second line, however his presence could throw off the progression of the prospect pool and delay the arrival of players such as Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer and Conor Garland.
Given this situation, the Coyotes’ forward corps would look something like this:
This situation suggests that Antoine Vermette is willing to reduce his role from top-6 to bottom-6 and that the Coyotes as an organization are willing to only bring one star rookie into the mix this year, presumably Strome or Dvorak to play second-line center.
This could move Vrbata down to play a role in the bottom-6 or be moved up due to injury. That would also allow Tippett and Chayka to promote two rookies to the team out of camp, and those two are likely to be Strome and Dvorak.
Other factors include Tobias Rieder‘s RFA status and the possibility of another team offer sheet-ing Rieder at a price GM John Chayka won’t pay.
The team could also move future UFA Martin Hanzal.
So yes, Vrby can fit into the lines, but the move may have some negative consequences.
Is Bringing Vrbata Back Really Worth It?
Vrbata would make the roster harder for rookies to crack, but is he worth the cash he’s likely commanding?
Moreover, Vrbata’s average time on ice has dropped since his Phoenix glory days while his Corsi totals have also declined as well.
In terms of talent, the most comparable players given Vrbata’ stats look to be Brian Gionta and Mike Fisher. Those two have contracts within the $4 million per year range, give or take bonus schedules and the values of no-trade/no-move clauses.
Expect Vrbata to be shopping for a deal somewhere in that bracket while also seeking something short term in the 2-3 year range.
Is that cost at that length really worth his diminished contributions?
Does Vrbata help get Arizona back into playing hockey in June?
The short answer is yes.
Vrbata doesn’t produce like he used to, but he certainly produces enough to make a difference and on a team that is so young, his presence along with Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal is invaluable, especially since Kyle Chipchura has signed with a KHL team in free agency.
Moreover, Vrbata could slot into a scoring role in the bottom-6 making Arizona’s lower lines some of the most potent depth scoring lines in the league.
All in all, bringing Vrbata back would be a highly calculated risk.
Some may say he tips the scale towards the Arizona Coyotes achieving a playoff birth, but it’s also possible he simply stunts the development of a couple of Arizona’s young forwards.
If I were the GM, I’d pass on Vrbata. I’m not, however.
If something in Vrbata’s game catches Coyotes’ GM John Chayka’s eye, expect to see #17 skating in a dark red jersey again some time soon.