The Canucks finally get to work on filling their biggest hole, sign Radim Vrbata

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Yeah, Radim Vrbata is awesome. Excuse the penis.

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:

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 6.39.15 PM

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. 

    • ned

      The way things are going Burr will be lucky to be here in the fall. Basically a signing to fill his position with a better suited player. A little nudge to the NTC.

        • Mantastic

          Depends, there are still cap floor teams but usually NTC’s are there to avoid them. In a package perhaps. Maybe if we’re taking a risky contract back. I just can’t see Benning being a big Burr fan after his antics in the final, he actually lost me there as well.

    • andyg

      ???????

      Burrows is a year younger and other than last year he has put up better numbers than Vrbata.

      You can’t judge Burrows based on last year.

      I will bet you be out scores Vrbata this year.

      • Scary Gary

        You’re going to be quite disappointed with Burrows’ point totals if he isn’t glued to the Sedins.

        He’s been a good player and seems like a nice guy.

        But he’s quite clearly being paid for past performance…

          • andyg

            Even if the Sedins and Burrows can bounce back to career averages in shots/game, score goals at their career average shooting percentage and assuming they play 82 games we can expect the following:

            D. Sedin: 26 goals
            H. Sedin: 16 goals
            A. Burrows: 21 goals

            Benning made it clear to Vrbata that he was going to get the bulk of the playing time with Sedins. If that is the case then we can assume AT THE VERY BEST:

            D. Sedin: 26 goals
            H. Sedin: 16 goals
            R. Vrbata: 26 goals

            1st line total of 68 goals.

            When you compare that to the top lines of other teams in the West:

            St. Louis – 81 Goals
            Chicago – 87 goals
            Anaheim – 88 goals
            San Jose – 96 goals
            LA – 63 Goals
            Colorado – 63 goals
            Minnesota – 70 goals
            Dallas – 87 Goals

            If we are lucky enough to get 68 from our top line – which is highly unlikely. The Canucks ‘top line’ is no where near ‘top level’

    • Andy

      Absolutely not an albatross considering his ability to score, PK and take tough match-ups.

      Personally, I think Burrows can be most useful to us as a 3C. Matthias is crap at face-off, Horvat not ready and Vey is much more suited as a winger – playing him at centre in the west is setting him up to fail.

      Burrows played this role extremely well at the start of the shortened season as Canucks Army may remember well.

  • ned

    So despite my inherent negativity furthered by Canuck-ian dread I gotta say I like what Benning/Linden has done so far. We will still at best be an “average” team in a tremendously stacked conference (seriously what!). That said it’s looking to be more exciting hockey and all of the glaring issues are at least being addressed.

    The biggest point standing for me right now is seeing Kassian and Tanev’s contracts. There is cap room for any possibility but seeing smart deals is another important step moving forward.

    There is surely some reasons to grumble at later draft picks and obviously it’s too early to judge but every single move made so far, from acquiring a new coach to trading kesler, has been reasonable.

    • Peachy

      Not Torts at all; it was the headgear.

      Burr makes his living whacking at the puck at his feet, and that lower grill he had to wear to protect his jaw meant that he frequently couldn’t see the puck accurately, and as a result, couldn’t shoot accurately.

      He’ll give a solid 20g/50pt season, which will bode well for his centre, Bonino.

      • ned

        Oh yah good point. I forgot about that. Yah seriously, not to make excuses for the guy. But every player has a bad season once in awhile. All of burrs productive seasons he was making a measly 2 mill a season. He earned that contract! And he’s still not even making what bolland or clarkson or what other lesser players are. The sedins helped but hes also been they’re best linemate because hes been a great player. How did he get the name “mr everything”? That is my rant for now. I just like seeing burr in a canucks uniform. Not trying to prove anything. Its impossible to convince people who have they’re own opinions. Just how I feel on the subject of burr. He single handedly won game 7 against chicago during our 2011 cup run. Want to see him be a canuck for at least another year.

  • Peachy

    I like it, I like it a lot.

    I was originally hopeful that the Grabovski / Kulemin pair would land in Vancouver, but at the hits and terms they signed for, glad they didn’t.

  • orcasfan

    Yes! This was the UFA I was hoping they would sign! I wouldn’t write off Burr just yet (even though it’s rumoured that he turned down JB’s request to waive his NTC). I think he ends up as 2nd LW, and a mainstay on the PK, and on 2nd PP.

    Given the RFA signings to come, there are going to be too many forwards, especially 3rd liners. Expect to see one of Richardson, Matthias or ?, moved this summer for picks (that’s assuming that Horvat makes the team).

  • orcasfan

    I would hope Burrows gets another kick at the can. He was unlucky with injuries, shooting, and with a coach who hated him. For a guy who fought tooth and nail to be in the league to a guy who was good for 20+ goals a year (albeit with the Sedins), one year where nothing went right shouldn’t be a good reason to immediately jump ship. If he struggles mightily this season, I have no problem with him being shipped out, but it seems really premature to be starting a #tradeburrows campaign.

    Also, I don’t think we’ll see anything else. Kassian, Tanev, and Vey will eat up that 7 million pretty well. I could see Tanev getting 2-3, and Kassian/Vey getting at least 1.5 apiece.

    • Andy

      The same could have been said for Garrison.

      If Burrows was making Higgins/Hansen money, he’d be fine.

      Burrows, Garrison, Booth…

      All of them COULD be better.

      And Schroeder could establish himself as an above replacement level NHLer.

      So what?

      If Burrows was a free agent, would you want the Canucks dedicating $4.5 mil/yr to him?

      Somehow I doubt it…

      • andyg

        If Vrbata comes in this year and gets hit in the face with a puck and breaks his jaw then you will be saying the same crap.
        Also if they move Burrows and he goes to a new team and puts up 45 points and plays well on the PK then everyone will be whining about letting him go.
        It is what it is.Just hope he returns to his true form.

        • andyg

          What exactly do you think Burrows’ true form is without the Sedins?

          His scoring was down during the shortened season as well.

          His scoring was down – and by that I mean non-existant – in the 17 games prior to the broken jaw as well.

          Would you want the Canucks to give him $4.5 million if he were a free agent?

          Booth & Garrison may have bounceback seasons as well…

  • Peachy

    Should send Burrows home to Montreal. Try and get Eller back.

    He can still be useful as a defensive forward though. I’d like to see him as a 3rd line centre between Higgins and Hansen. See if Bonino-Vey-Kassian can create some magic between them.

  • Peachy

    Burrows won’t get 20 goals. Limited PP time, normal zone starts, no 2nd line C and without the Sedins he shoots at ~7% (~15% with).

    Definitely has value, like Booth did, just not $4m+ value. Doubt we’ll find someone to take that contract though.

    • Andy

      He’s always had limited PP time. That’s not a change.

      2 shots per game at 12% gets him 20 goals in 82 games. Since he’s mostly a garbage-collector who will likely be playing with two passers, I’d say both those numbers are still valid.

      As for trading, I guess it depends on what you’re trading him for. If what you mostly want is cap space, you can find a buyer. If you’re wanting to make a hockey trade, wait until the deadline. If Burr is on pace for anything close to 20/50 then yeah, there will be a couple GMs kicking the tires.

      Of course, if he’s way below (say with 11g in 82gp) it’s compliance time next spring.

    • orcasfan

      Busted!! LOL 🙂

      Amazing though, how extremely positive the army is for this signing, compared to how negative they are for all other things (draft+UFA) the Canucks have been doing.

      Vrbata is a good signing, but not a saviour.

      So far I see Bonino, Vey (think he’ll surprise and get his breakthrough) and Vrbata + Miller as a pretty good upgrade from last year. But then again, I was never a big Kesler fan. (He was good, but didn’t love his as many seemed to do.)

      I’m quite optimistic towards the fall!

  • orcasfan

    Undrafted Burr fought his way up from the ECHL to the A and then to the Canucks.
    He has been a good soldier for nine seasons, a team player who signed for below market a few years back to stay with the team.
    He’s a determined player who I hope will fight back from his worst year, because battling against odds has been his forte since playing for 30K with the Greenville Grrrowl. (That’s not a typo.)

  • acg5151

    I think Burrows can come back and produce 30-50 points next season from the 2nd line. It’s not like he’s an awful player, he just had a rough season. His value will not be lower than what it is now so might as well hold onto him until the trade deadline – he will either provide good secondary scoring or will play with the Sedins, or will suck.

    Learn some patience people. Don’t dump a player for a bad season. 2 or 3 bad seasons, yeah. It’s a mistake people and GM’s make time and time again.

  • Andy

    Good signing! Excellent term.

    Goes a long way to replace Kesler’s offence and is a play driving top-6 forward (something Kes was slipping at these past few seasons). Combined with picking up Vey and Bonino we have better scoring depth this year.

    If they trade Sestito and sign Santorelli or another versatile forward I will be pleased.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Vrbata signing is great, both in $ and term.

    The problem is the Miller signing. Too much $ and too much term. If we were the only team to chase Miller and he loves playing here so much, why didn’t Benning sign him for 4.5m. a year? Then 3 years wouldn’t have hurt that much either. With a 6m. cap hit you cannot trade him away to a contender at the deadline either because he is too expensive. With 4.5m we might have been able to.

    Plus, because of Miller’s cap hit, there is less (too little?) room to sign our RFA’s (Kassian, Vey, Tanev & Weber) and possibly Santorelli.

  • Mantastic

    I like the work that Benning has done so far but a lack of scoring is still a huge concern.

    Note: Numbers below assume every player plays 82 games. Numbers are based on a weighting of 50% + 30% + 20% of the last three years of player performance.

    Sedin(20)-Sedin(14)-Vrbata(26)

    Higgins(18)-Bonino(18)-Burrows(16)

    Kassian(13)-Matthias(11)-Hansen(14)

    Archibald/Sestito(5)-Richardson(9)-Dorsett(9)

    Edler(11)-Tanev(5)

    Bieksa(8)-Hamius(6)

    Sbisa(3)-Stanton/Corrado(3)

    The 1st line looks OK at best. But the big issue is they have two solid 3rd lines and a serviceable 4th line with no real scoring punch to be found anywhere in the line-up.

    If everything goes absolutely perfectly for the Canucks they are looking at about 206 goals which puts them solidly in the bottom 5/6 of the league in scoring.

    In the last 5 years only 8 teams have made the playoffs by scoring less than 215 goals and only 2 of those made it by scoring less than 200.

    I hate to say it but unless the Canucks can find away to stay ridiculously healthy, multiple players have bounce back years (or catch lighting in a bottle), and Miller plays absolutely out of his mind, the reality is this team wont even be fighting for a wildcard spot.

    If they run into injury trouble or the player regression continues, Connor McDavid doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

  • Mantastic

    Taking a look at some of Burrows numbers over the last 6 seasons:

    2009: 2.134 shots/game – 16.0 sh%
    2010: 2.549 shots/game – 16.8 sh%
    2011: 2.111 shots/game – 17.1 sh%
    2012: 2.475 shots/game – 14.1 sh%
    2013: 2.978 shots/game – 9.3 sh%
    2014: 2.122 shots/game – 3.9 sh%

    Career: 1.979 shots/game – 12.7 sh%

    Even if Burrows has a bounce back year next year to near career averages and assuming he plays a full 82 games. That amounts to 21 goals.

    I believe that his career shooting percentage is inflated due to playing with the Sedin’s in their prime. At this point in his career as his skills diminish and not playing as many quality minutes with the Sedins it is highly unlikely that he will shoot any where near his career average of 12.8 again.

    If we assume that he can still shoot at about a 9% rate and his shots/game rate stays at around 2.1 and again assuming he plays 82 games, we can expect approximately 16 goals.

    I highly doubt Burrows will score more than 20 goals again in his career.

  • Fred-65

    few points that hit me with this signing. Despite the continuous bleats by some about the Sedins being finished or over rated yaddah…yaddah.. The reason Vrbata wanted to play here was ….those same Sedins It will help the PP…a disaster last season and it should help with the shoot out ( as will Bonino ) that might well add 5-10 pts

    • Mantastic

      Looking back over the last 4 seasons since Kesler was moved onto the powerplay with the Sedins.

      5-on-4 stats from 2011-2014

      Kesler: 552 Min, 2.18 Min/game, 14 goals, 37 points, 142 Shots, 1.78 GF/60, 9.86 Sh%, 15.43 Sh/60.

      Vrbata: 539 Min, 2.00 Min/game, 16 goals, 37 points, 117 shots, 1.52 GF/60, 13.68 Sh%, 13.01 Sh/60.

      Over that same time frame Kesler was on the ice for approximately 39% of the the Canucks power play time. If you take the Canucks average powerplay time from the last 4 seasons and project it forward for the next two seasons and if we expect Vrbata to be a direct replacement for Kesler on the powerplay we can reasonably expect Vrbata to see approximately 357 minutes of the Canucks total 912 minutes of powerplay time over the next two seasons.

      If you apply the previous 4 seasons of Vrbata’s stats to the two seasons moving forward we will see something close to this:

      357 Min, 2.17 Min/game, 9 goals, 25 points.

      If you take Kesler’s stats and project them forward over the next two seasons (if he were still with the Canucks) we would see this: 9 goals and 25 points.

      Vrbata is essentially a direct replacement for Kesler’s production on the powerplay.

      Unless the Sedins discover the fountain of youth or find a genie in a bottle, chances are the powerplay is going to be the same stagnant mess it has been the last two seasons Vrbata or no Vrbata.

      • Mantastic

        I don’t buy the fact the Sedins are done. Did anyone miss the fact that Torts didn’t practice the PP at all?

        Kesler is not a pure goal scorer or “hands” type guy. He stands in from and picks up the garbage goals. Vrbata will be different in the fact that he finds open holes and scores. The fact alone that he was 5-12 on shoot outs improves. The club there.

        Last year was an anomaly created by Hurricane Torts and an unusually long list of poorly timed injuries. Everytime one forward would suit up at least one more would go down.

        This bad year was good in that we got a high pick and got a real group with leadership qualities in charge. The Canucks are going to be well off into the future

  • Fred-65

    This is a VERY good signing for the club!!

    Verbata is younger than Iggy and is as under rated a forward as there is. Playing in obscurity in Pho, probably held his want factor down. The guy could have a great year playing next to the Twins and especially on the PP!

    The PP is the forgotten key to the Canucks success. If they get it clicking again a playoff run is not out of the question at all.

    Hot goaltending and PP success can carry a team a long way. The Nucks are on the right path for sure.

  • Mantastic

    Was that article an actual acknowledgement of Benning making a good move? Good for you guys at Nucks army….

    Benning’s plan makes perfect sense to those of us that don’t want to suffer through a waste of a year, just to maybe get a chance at 1 or 2 pick in the draft. Remember There are a lot of generational type players that only won a cup or none because of their supporting cast. First and for most is The Great one!

    After leaving the mighty Oil teams he made one cup final. It’s great to have a Crosby or Ovie…. But doesn’t guarantee success. Kings have 2 cups with a team… Ovie? In today’s salary cap you can’t take up a huge percentage with one or two players. Pens showed this year that mediocre goaltending can sink any ship.

    Benning has short term contracts that will span the rest of the Sedins Canuck time…. If a forward or two out of Kass, Jensen, Horvat, Vey or Shinkaruk steps up to be a second line player then this team can be for real. With 7 mil left Benning could run at Lee Stempmniak for second line help. Hard working team guy or just hold on until the trade deadline and be a major player to acquire a big name. If team under performs, then I’m sure Edler, Bieska, Burr will all wave NTC to join a contending team. Draft picks in deep draft and more cap room.

    Flexibility seems to be Benning’s game and I am down with that. A team that was aging with locked in contracts now looks to be one of the more flexible teams out there, ready for any situation.

  • andyg

    You guys are never happy unless you have someone to tear apart.

    Today’s flavor is Burrows!!!

    Late this year it might be Vrbata.

    Or maybe Horvat if he makes the team.