Maximizing Returns on Vrbata Extend Past This Season

For the better part of this season, the Sedins have skated alongside Jannik Hansen. Empirically speaking, the clumsy Dane offers the Canucks the best bet to maximize their return on the Twins and the evidence suggested as much well before they caught fire most recently.

This has left the estranged Radim Vrbata a refugee in the Canucks middle-six. To his credit, the Czech volume shooter has been highly effective in the face of unimaginably poor luck. Similar to Vrbata’s displacement from the top line last season, it’s also added much-needed scoring punch throughout the remainder of the Canucks lineup.

Given the Canucks publicly ascribed goal of remaining competitive in the face of a daunting rebuild, there’s no arguing the logic behind separating Vrbata from the Twins. There’s a flip side to this decision, though, which could potentially lead to unwanted consequences in the not-so-distant future.

As the discussion surrounding this club strays from the more granular concerns regarding usage and deployment, it becomes increasingly murky. The Canucks wants to win now but build towards the future. As a coach, there’s little if anything that can be done towards serving the latter of these masters; nothing which will be overly influenced by lineup decisions. Discussing which players figure into the short and long-term plans, however, represents an entirely different set of circumstances.

In the handling of Vrbata’s final season as a Canuck, this paradigm is broached. Vrbata is in the final year of his two-year contract with the Canucks, which carries an AAV of $5-million. It’s widely regarded as one of the better moves made by Jim Benning, and with good reason. In signing Vrbata to this most tame of contracts, the Canucks secured a first line talent with the ability to contribute positively towards the short-term health of the franchise in a large way.

Whether by accident or design, it’s becoming increasingly possible that they’ve also stumbled upon a valuable asset towards the future as well. The trade deadline is becoming an increasingly seller friendly venue and the Canucks have a first line talent, on a short-term, team-friendly contract that could yield a sizeable return if shopped.

In a world where Antoine Vermette’s skeleton yields a first-round selection and a blue chip defenceman, imagine the worth of a top-flight player with a favourable and genuinely deserved reputation? One might reasonably expect a huge return, which might satisfy the Canucks half-affixed gaze to the future.

To that exact end, they should do everything in their power to increase Vrbata’s value in the lead-up to this year’s trade deadline – not entirely dissimilar to what they pulled with Cody Hodgson, many moons ago. 

Returning Vrbata to the Sedin’s right flank offers them the best opportunity to do so, at a manageable, if marginal impact to their short-term aspirations. The trio appeared to develop instant chemistry last season and his departure was more complimentary than punitive, anyways. “Here, Vrbata, just go ahead and save Nick Bonino’s season” and the like.

A cursory glance at the threesome’s WOWY statistics are telling of a dominant first line, controlling well north of 55% of goals and shot attempts when playing together. I’ve no quarrel with the thought process behind the Union of Kalmar line, but I’d hardly call making the switch back to Vrbata instead of Hansen a downgrade – certainly not one worth griping about, anyways.

Based on my math and using Daniel Sedin as a proxy for his play with both twins, it appears as though Vrbata is netting .95 iG/60 in this role. Adjusting these numbers based on Vrbata’s even strength ice-time over the course of last season, that’s good for 16 even-strength markers. If we run this same experiment based on Vrbata’s play away from the twins, there’s a healthy slide down to roughly .61 iG/60, good for 11 even-strength goals.

It’s a fairly rudimentary test and one might easily counter with the fact that no two, or three players are inseparable over the course of a season. All the same, I think that the difference is striking enough that it bears mentioning.

Separate the Canucks stated goals, the stark reality is that every move should be made towards advancing the health of this club when they can realistically be expected to contend again. Pardon my optimism, but I can’t imagine that happening any sooner than four, maybe five years from now. At that juncture, 38-year old Radim Vrbata likely can’t contribute to the extent that his price tag might warrant. The draft pick or prospect the Canucks might expect in return, most certainly could.

Now, in the age of advancing information the NHL is still very much a results-based industry. Generally speaking, managers pay based on what the player in question has contributed, rather than what he can contribute. It’s bizarre and weird, but oh well. A Vrbata with 16-even strength goals is likely a 25-30 goal scorer in total. In theory, this type of asset should yield a kings ransom.

On the other hand, Vrbata with 11-even strength goals is probably on the low end of the 20-25 spectrum. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s more than nothing.

Then again, maybe the Canucks just spit in the face of logic and sign him to a lucrative extension.

  • wojohowitz

    Think it is time to part company. RV made a decent contribution while he was with the team and it is time to move on. His signing was never meant to be a long term solution. Trade him for a high draft pick and call it a day.

  • Dirty30

    One minor quibble. — if Vrby is put back with the Sedins then is his increase in production simply an artifact of their play rather than his? Wouldn’t it be better for him to find his way on another line and prove he can be productive and contribute to a contender?

    Any team that is contending is assumed to have a decent GM who would know by now that the Sedins can make Anson Carter look good, so why pay top dollar for the guy who looks good if he can’t produce away from the Sedins?

    One hopes that Vrby’s shooting percentage starts to trend back to the mean or better just in advance of the trade deadline.

    If he’s making points with McCann and Higgins then he’s got solid value.

    Then trade him.

    • Dirty30

      Unlike leaf fans we don’t think we have the cup won every October after a long win streak(usually 2whole games). Winning is nice but when all your team gets old fast like we did and cupboards are bare, we know it’s time to start the rebuild or you team ends up like the leafs. (Leafs should be back in contention by 2031).
      Keep playing the kids.

  • Dirty30

    Benning brought in this asset and he will ascertain if the asset is to be turned. Shame because McCann and Verby have chemistry but Higgins has hands of stone and Baertschi is not yet at the level of Vrby-McC.

  • andyg

    Very with the Twins is a conundrum since when they are on the ice the play is possession, but outside of the circles. There is less movement and teams have worked on Radim’s back door shot so it isn’t as effective.

    I could see a move that would entail a Vrby trade, then Higgins taking his spot and Gaunce or Hunter being called up from Utica. This team is in a position, with health, to be very competitive as long as Bo/Mac /Jake/Hutton continue to develop. Bo is struggling right now, but when Sutter returns I expect a more dynamic center slotted where he belongs.

    This team will be better going into the playoffs, because the young guys are being given resposibity not protected.

  • Dirty30

    Not sure why any team anymore would not be aware of things like usage, linemates and percentages when evaluation a possible trade target. You are assuming Craig McTavish and Steve Tambellini are still running all playoff bound teams ?

  • andyg

    After his shoot out attempt his trade value has dropped again.

    I really don’t understand coaches when it comes to shoot outs. Why always use the same guys. Why not throw someone new in there. If it didn’t work last time what the h*** makes you think it will work this time. Why not try the kids?They are not going to make a defensive mistake and cost the game. Why not put Sven out there and see what he can do. Maybe it helps his confidence.

    For god sake do something new and original. Have a pole and let the fans vote on it. If that is all you can come up with then let us coach the shoot out.

    • Dirty30

      Hell yeah! Give Miller a stick and let him have at it. Couldn’t do any worse than the rest of the team.

      It might just be worth the commentary on that move.

  • Dirty30

    im all for trading vrbata and hamhuis.(if a new extension inst reached) i can also see hamhuis resigning back in vancouver after being traded at the deadline. being away from family might be difficult, but having a chance for a cup might be worth it for him. the good part of this scenario is having younger players being placed into more curcial roles on the team, and the draft picks/prospects we get back inreturn. but there’s something even better and thats the cap space, and the opportunity of making stamkos the highest paid player in the league. well i can dream about it

  • andyg

    Since you mentioned Vermette….do a Vermette with Radim. If he can bring a 1st rounder and a blue chip defenceman, or anything close, by all means trade him and then bring him back like Arizona did with Vermette. If you don’t bring him back, and assuming he keeps regaining his goal scoring form of last year, you need to find someone that replaces that scoring.

  • andyg

    Unlike last season, the cap didn’t move up as hoped so a lot of teams are running into the cap crunch. Vrbata makes $5M while Vermette made/makes $3.75M. That’s a big difference. After seeing the overpayment last year and how teams passed on Franson this offseason, I highly doubt the Canucks will get anything like Vermette, Yandle, or Franson last year at the trade deadline. We’d be lucky if we got a 1st rounder and a prospect, I think a 2nd rounder or a mid-tier prospect is the best we’ll get. Should have moved him last year.