As dominant as the Sedins have been for the better part of this last decade, the same cannot be said of their right flank. Players with varying degrees of talent and ability have come and gone on that line, with about half of them never panning out elsewhere. Everyone from Trent Klatt, Anson Carter, Markus Naslund, Taylor Pyatt, Mikael Samuelsson and Alex Burrows all got their shot with the twins. Some stays being longer than others.
The closest that the Sedins have ever been to a permanent fixture on the right side is none other than Alex Burrows. Last season saw the Canucks take a step away from that trio, though. A series of injuries to Burrows and the concept of front-loading the Canucks offence with Ryan Kesler as their right-winger and trigger-man spelled the beginning of that end.
This off-season, the Canucks did their best to make that switch from Burrows the rule, not the exception. They did so by signing Radim Vrbata, formerly of the Arizona Coyotes. At 33 years old, it seems highly unlikely that the Canucks see Vrbata as the long-term fixture on that line. It’s evident in the contract they signed Vrbata to, which runs for just two-years at $5 million per season.
What are the Canucks getting in Vrbata, though? Can he help resuscitate the Sedins offense? I’ll try to answer both these questions, on the other side of the jump.
It’s strange that a player as consistently dominant in certain aspects of the game can go as unnoticed as Vrbata has. Had Vrbata’s counting stats matched the efficiency of his play, perhaps this would be different. Then again, it is only suiting of his personality. As unsettling a face as Vrbata possesses, it seems fair to describe him as an unassuming character.
In his last season with the Coyotes, Vrbata provided the club with excellent two-way play and offensive punch. Much like the fours seasons prior, Vrbata was counted on to do much of the offensive lifting on a Coyotes squad that can be aptly described as “goal adverse”.
Playing in 29% of the Coyotes even strength ice-time, Vrbata was on the ice for 33% of their goals. Efficiency is key. It seems like a small number for a player in his role, but consider that his two primary offensive linemates were Martin Hanzal and Tim Kennedy before discarding that information.
Vrbata’s WOWY statistics shine an equally favorable light on his ability to perform offensively regardless of who his linemates were. A lot of what Vrbata accomplished offensively, he did of his own accord. With a Rel. Fenwick north of 7%, Vrbata tilted the ice considerably in Arizona’s favor, as well. An added notch to Vrbata’s belt was his excellent neutral zone play, which resulted in a 42% carry-in rate on offensive zone-entries.
Perhaps Vrbata’s most appealing quality is his ability to throw everything but the kitchen sink on net. Playing for a low-event team like the Coyotes, Vrbata was top-30 in the league in shots/60mins and eighth in individual Corsi. If not for a sh% nearly two points lower than the career norm for Vrbata, it seems plausible that he should have been able to score a handful more goals than the 20 that found the back of the net.
We’re just one game into the season and Vrbata has a goal and four shots to his credit, along with a 1000 batting average – exactly as Jim Benning planned it! It’s this level of play that the Canucks will need to see from Vrbata through the other 81 games as well.
It’s what they brought him into the the fold for, after all. Vrbata is supposed to be the right-handed shot the Sedins have generally lacked alongside them. Daniel and Henrik have never had a great shot between them, and rely generally on sharing the puck in a style that is becoming of their socialist motherland. In Vrbata, they finally have a linemate who doesn’t need a net-front office to be productive. From the top of the circle to the half-wall, Vrbata presents options that the Sedins just haven’t had for most of their careers offensively.
There’s also the matter of his deceptively hard wrist-shot and the proficiency with which he gets it on net. Producing shot-attempts at the rate he did last season is obscene, and even more so when you consider that his setup guy was Martin Hanzal, he of the career-high 40 point campaign. Imagine his conversion rate with Henrik Sedin as his pivot? It’s exciting to say the least.
This is assuming Vrbata keeps his cushy gig alongside the twins. It’s entirely conceivable that Vrbata performs to, or above expectations and just can’t for the life of him fend off a Burrows reunion with the twins. As Thomas Drance wisely pointed out, Mikael Samuelsson entered the 2009-10 in an eerily similar situation to the one Vrbata enters this year:
There’s also a “but” however, and as it was for Samuelsson, Vrbata’s particular “but” is Burrows. Though Samuelsson made the twins marginally more potent offensively, he was unable to permanently supplant Burrows on the top-line.
Samuelsson may not have liked it, but then Canucks coach Alain Vigneault’s preference for Burrows with the twins wasn’t irrational in the least. Samuelsson may have made the twins a more potent offensive line, but Burrows’ two-way abilities made the twins more formidable in every other aspect.
This wouldn’t be the worst possible scenario, but it’s certainly not what management envisioned for Vrbata when they signed him. For this season to be a success, Vrbata will have to do what Samuelsson could not. It’s no easy task, but based on his inauspiciously productive career to this point, I think he’s up to it.
NATIONDRAFTS IS BACK!
The NationDrafts charity pool is back! Once again, it’s time to flex your hockey brain, build a championship team, and take a run at some fantastic prizes. The cost to enter NationDrafts is $20, and a portion of all proceeds will be going to help the Inner City Children’s Program. To enter the pool, head over to nationdrafts.com and build your championship team from the boxes provided. Seems easy enough, right? Prove it! Internet infamy awaits you.