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Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind: Free Agency Freshman Part 2

To recap, we’ve already spent time on The Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind rehashing—with the benefit of a half-decade’s hindsight—the first major moves of Benning’s tenure as GM of the Vancouver Canucks. In Issue #1 we tackled the Ryan Kesler deal, and after that we took on a trio of draft pick-related trades that included the acquisition of Derek Dorsett.

Our look at Benning’s first Free Agent Frenzy as an NHL General Manager ballooned beyond expectations and had to be split into two parts. Part 1 was all about Ryan Miller, and now Part 2 is here to deliver on the man, the myth, the lethargic—Radim Vrbata.

By the second day of free agency—July 2, 2014—Vrbata was one of the best talents remaining on the board. Somehow, Benning managed to snag the 34-year-old right winger to a contract that was low on term and medium on salary.

 

The Contract

Radim Vrbata for Two Years at $5 Million Per/

$10 Million Total

Modified NTC

The Decision 

There’s debate to be had over the decision to make one last run at contention with the Sedins—but once that choice was made, the decision to pursue Radim Vrbata was an easy one.

With Ryan Kesler traded and with Alex Burrows having taken a step back in an injury-plagued 2013/14, there was a need for a new Sedin linemate if the Canucks were going to continue to build their offense around the twins.

After going nearly point-per-game in the lockout-shortened 2012/13 season, Vrbata had a down year in 2013/14—but still managed to crack 20 goals and 51 points for the offensively-impotent Phoenix Coyotes. Vrbata tied for second in team scoring that year with Mikkel Boedker, each just two points behind Keith Yandle.

The fact that such a free agent wasn’t demanding a crippling term or a bank-busting salary made this a bit of a no-brainer for a Jim Benning who displayed uncharacteristic patience in waiting 48 hours for Vrbata to make a decision.

As a one-time 30 goal scorer with a slow-paced, cerebral game, Vrbata seemed like a natural fit as Henrik and Daniel’s right winger—and indeed that’s exactly what he was.

For a little while.

Vr-Batman: Year One

From NHL.com

Radim Vrbata came about as hot out of the gates as a new acquisition can in 2014/15. Finding instant chemistry with the twins, Vrbata notched five points in his first three games and 11 in his first month.

His scoring remained pretty much consistent—he only went without a point in three straight games thrice in the entire season—on the way to career highs in assists and points with 32 and 63 respectively. Vrbata’s 31 goals were four off the 35 he scored in 2011/12.

An instant fan favourite, Vrbata was one of the few players on the roster—aside from the twins themselves—with enough offensive creativity to have a signature move. Time and again, Vrbata fooled goaltenders by feinting a wraparound and dropping a pass across his body and back to one of the Sedins—who would then fire the puck into the yawning cage. Observe:

Vrbata spent more than 50% of his even-strength time alongside Henrik and Daniel, and all parties reaped benefits from the winning combination. Their top line helped propel the Canucks to a somewhat improbable playoff appearance—a first round loss in which Vrbata posted four points in six games, tying for the team lead.

From Dobber’s Frozen Tools

Then things went off the rails.

 

Irradimable                        

Radim Vrbata came out cold for the 2015/16 season, going pointless in his first six games and losing his ironclad hold on the Sedins’ right wing. The Sedins would go on to spend much of the season with Jannik Hansen on their line—whereas Vrbata would go on to spend much of the season floundering in the team’s middle-six.

From NHL.com

Vrbata found himself saddled with a number of young linemates—a far cry from his days with the twins. Rather than helping to elevate the games of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Jared McCann, however, Vrbata served as a boat anchor to whoever was placed on his line.

From Dobber’s Frozen Tools

He made several comments to the media that seemed to intimate that he signed in Vancouver under some expectation of playing with the Sedins, and felt slighted that he was no longer receiving the opportunity. His unhappiness was also apparent in his quality of play.

Though his offensive creativity shone through in occasional bursts of passion, Vrbata sloughed through the 2015/16 with little apparent energy. Brief injury trouble did little to help his mood.

Vrbata did manage to put up five multi-point games, but he also went six games without a point on three separate occasions. In the end, Vrbata finished with just 27 points in 63 games—lows not seen since his days with the Carolina Hurricanes in the early 2000s.

The Canucks gladly cut ties with Vrbata in the 2016 offseason as he predictably returned to Arizona for the third time in his career. There, he posted a solid rebound campaign in 2016/17 before finishing his career with the Florida Panthers the following year.

Ultimate Value    

Radim Vrbata may have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Vancouver Canucks and their fanbase, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t also return fair value on his contract.

In his first season with the team, Vrbata earned every penny of his $5 million salary—which represented 7.25% of the cap when he signed the deal, according to CapFriendly.

The real brilliance in this contract—and an unfortunate but sharp contrast to Jim Benning’s free agency signings to come—is in its brevity. One fantastic season into the deal, it was already half over—and had pretty much paid off already. Even if the wheels fell off the following year—which they absolutely did—the Canucks still got one last playoff drive built on Sedin excellence out of this contract, and that’s worth $10 million any day.

With all that being said, there’s definitely room to complain about Benning’s inability to cash in on Vrbata at the 2016 Trade Deadline. With the Canucks a longshot to make the playoffs and Vrbata clearly mentally checked out, a deal should have been made—but Benning found it impossible to negotiate both Vrbata’s NTC and the deadline market.

It will never be known how much of that was a result of Vrbata being intentionally difficult—his wife was pregnant at the time of the deadline and there were reports he’d adjusted his no-trade list that was very unfavourable to the team—and how much of it was Benning’s Trade Deadline ineptitude, but it’s probably a safe bet to be a little from both Columns “A” and “B” in this scenario.

As a pending UFA coming off a 30-goal season, Vrbata should have been able to return some sort of futures-based package at the deadline—even in the midst of a tempestuous slump. Vrbata proved the next season that he did have the ability to rebound, so surely there must have been someone willing to pay up for his services.

Frustratingly, the Radim Vrbata signing remains one wherein Jim Benning definitely received fair value—but could have got even more if he played his cards right.

 

Speaking of Trade Deadlines, tune in next time to hear all about Jim Benning’s first dealings with Deadline Day.



  • Kanuckhotep

    I vividly remember that first year Vrbata played here principly with the twins and looked great. Unfortunately the next year I can’t seem to forget how badly he tanked, wondering if it was the same guy. Whether this is on the player or on Mr. Benning remains up for debate but what a bad turn around. Whatever happened to Anson Carter with his 36 goal season here or Jonathan Cheechoo playing with Jumbo Joe that year and potting 56 goals? Soon these guys were out of the league. Happens all the time but Radim Vrbata initially looked good but wasn’t in the league all that long after that 2nd season. 50/50 for Benning on this one.

  • Ronning4ever

    I’m not sure how much ineptitude there is when there’s literally no offer.

    “Vrbata, meanwhile, gave the Canucks a list of eight teams he would agree to be traded to, but Benning said there were no offers for the 34-year-old winger who has 12 goals and 12 assists in 57 games this season.

    “He gave us a fair list,” said Benning. “If we could have done something, we would have done it.”

    • Ultimately it’s all hearsay and spin. I really don’t believe there wasn’t any interest at all in Vrbata, but he also didn’t seem to want to move at the deadline and had the right to enforce his NTC how he pleases. We’ll never know the full truth of it, I’m sure.

      • Ronning4ever

        While I’d normally agree about hearsay and spin, Jim Benning does not strike me as a man who outright lies. Given the specificity of his comments, I’d take them at face value: Vrbata gave a legitimate series of names, but there were no offers. Hard to fault management for that IMHO.

        “He could have given us teams we had no chance to trade him to, but he gave us a fair list,” Benning said. “We talked to all the teams on the list. For whatever reason, a couple of teams went in a different direction; the other teams weren’t buying at the deadline.”

    • Kanucked

      While some of it was on the player, Desjardins didn’t really put him in a position to succeed. Vrbata complained as early as training camp that he needed time with line mates to develop chemistry.

      When it becomes clear that the season isn’t going well, the Canucks should have tried to put him in positions where he could maximize his points so he could get a decent return.

      I think that has been a consistent trait for Benning is his ability to foresee circumstances that are readily foreseeable.

  • CursedCanucks

    Benning did good getting him signed. Later in the 2nd year kept wishing they would put him back with the Sedins.. But they never did. Think everyone figured he would rebound somewhat, cause he did not look inspired on any other line then the first.

  • rediiis

    Unfortunately Loui checked out last year (three hits, you really have to try to not have three hits by accident) and yet it reminds me of Redrum Vrbata. Has NTC and binds JB’s hands. If teams on his list are up against the cap, what can you do if they take a pass. He played Benning and their was nothing he could do, other than sitting him. Looking back, Willie should have sat him.

  • TheRealPB

    I remember how disappointed I was at the TDL that year in the (mis)handling of both Vrbata and Hamhuis. But in hindsight it was probably not as easy as it looked. We all know the Hamhuis case and how we got kind of played by Dallas who ended up with him anyway. But in Vrbata’s case I did wonder how much this was the Canucks’ fault. If anything I thought he was weirdly mishandled by WD — he was kind of pushed into a baby-sitting role with Horvat and Baertschi and it didn’t go well. It made me really question his professionalism because other vets have handled assignments like that far better — think about Trent Klatt or Trevor Linden with the Sedins. But whatever it was, the Canucks did very little to drive up Vrbata’s value before the deadline (and if I remember he was injured and shut down right after wasn’t he?). Even if he had been showcased I don’t know that he would have been amenable to a move. It’s pretty understandable if he didn’t want to move with a pregnant girlfriend but the next year in Arizona he flat out refused to be traded at the deadline again. So I think a little of Column A, a little of Column B is probably pretty bang-on.

  • wojohowitz

    Maybe have a look at Benning`s free agency signings from two years ago. Burmistrov, Del Zotto, Gagner, Nilsson, Rodin and Wiercioch. Benning`s media conference comments to the bobbing heads were; `You know what we are trying to do. Right…and the bobbing heads respond; `Yeah Jim, we know what you`re trying to do` as they give each other puzzling looks like WTF is he doing.

  • jaybird43

    Another writer who blames Benning for an inability to move an NTC player. What a surprise (sarcasm). But seriously, without being privy to the actual conversations between Benning and Vrbata/agent, how would you even have a close if Vrbata said, F.Yooo, I refuse?

  • canuckfan

    Vrbata was awesome right up to the Calgary series where he did the disappearing act that ended up carrying over into the next season. Ever since that Calgary series his level of play dropped for the rest of his career and was never the player he was the first year with Canucks thankfully it was only a two year contract.

  • TheRealRusty

    Players have families to consider. I would imagine it is always easier to move a pending UFA with a NMC/NTC before the season starts then wait until the treat deadline.