Heading into the free agency period with defined areas of need and a boatload of cap space at their disposal, we figured the Canucks would be one of the busier teams in the league. Things didn’t necessarily play out that way right away, with the team signing a goalie and a trifecta of AHL/NHL tweeners, none of which helped fill in the blank for the burning question of who exactly would put a puck in the net for them next season.
We have at least part of that answer now, as news broke Wednesday night that the Canucks and Radim Vrbata came to terms on a team-friendly deal. There’s a lot to like here.
Vrbata’s name isn’t necessarily a flashy one that’ll help draw people to the arena or sell jerseys. After starting his career in an impressive manner with 18 goals in 52 games as a 20-year old on a strong Colorado Avalanche team, he bounced around for a handful of years between the Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Lightning, and Coyotes. He spent the last 5 years of his career playing in relative obscurity for the Coyotes, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he was a legitimately productive player for the length of that time.
Spanning those past 5 seasons of play, Vrbata’s 1.92 goals/60 at 5v4 rank 36th out of all players (with at least 500 minutes of ice-time). This past year, only 12 players scored more times on the man advantage than Vrbata, and I think you’re at least vaguely familiar with most of them.
Here’s a screen grab from Hockey Reference of the top goal scorers in the NHL since ’09:
Not terrible company, he has carried. While the 35 goals (and 15.1 shooting %) back in ’11-’12 will likely never be repeated by Vrbata, there’s no reason to believe he can’t comfortably fall into the 20-25 goal range during his time in Vancouver. Particularly if he is fortunate enough to be the 3rd wheel for the Sedins, and enjoy the benefits of the favourable zone deployment that accompanies that role.
Vrbata’s underlying numbers are just as inspiring; he hasn’t posted a negative corsi relative since the ’08 season, despite routinely playing against tough competition and been given a fairly neutral zone start ratio. His shot rate, in particular, stands out — he has been an absolute fiend when it comes to putting pucks on net over his career, with his 10.20 shots/60 at 5v5 ranking 16th out of all eligible NHLers. Aside from the aforementioned ’12 season, Vrbata’s been saddled with an 8.6% shooting percentage, and the sheer volume of attempts is what has managed to single-handedly prop the goal totals up.
Overall, this is a pretty notable coup for Jim Benning and the Canucks as they managed to reel in what very well may’ve been one of the best players remaining from the free agent class, and one that’ll serve as a noticeable upgrade over what they had in-house prior. Vrbata’s 33 years old, but by playing to their strengths – which was north of 11 million dollars in cap space remaining after most teams blew their loads yesterday – the Canucks were able to limit his term to only 2 years, making his age a non-factor.
It’ll be awfully interesting to see what this means for Alex Burrows in the days and weeks to come. Regardless, this is a move that’ll likely allow someone like a Zack Kassian to stay on a 2nd or 3rd line, and have a chance to give the team some semblance of offensive depth rather than just throwing all of the available eggs into one basket. With just south of $7 million in cap space left to spend, it’s a distinct possibility that there’s still more to come in the way of scoring help. This was a very strong start, though.