Vrbata signing buoys 28th-ranked offence
two years, $10M: Free agent decides to take up the challenge of getting Vancouver back into the playoffs
Dollar signs and a starting role sold Ryan Miller on plunging headfirst into the Vancouver fishbowl.
A suitable contract with sufficient term, style of play and projected linemates was to determine whether unrestricted free agent winger Radim Vrbata would choose the Canucks or other serious suitors — like the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks — this week.
He chose Vancouver.
Vrbata received a two-year, $10 million US deal from the Canucks on Wednesday, and it’s a win-win situation. The player gets a boost from his expiring $3-million deal with Arizona and the Canucks get the bridge contract they needed so younger players can eventually transition into the lineup.
To be at his best, the former 35-goal scorer will need instant chemistry with a playmaker, because if there’s not a comfort level, his consistency will wane and he didn’t score in his last dozen outings in the 2013-14 season. Then again, he’s sneaky and streaky and had four goals in a four-game span.
That’s why the 33-year-old Czech Republic native became one of the first to be pursued heavily in the secondary free-agent market. He could score 30 goals next season. He could score 20 like he did last season, with half of those coming on the fourth-rated power play. Give him a savvy setup linemate like he had in like Ray Whitney, and it could be interesting.
However, the Canucks don’t have that proven veteran passing presence on their projected second line, although 20 of the 49 points centre Nick Bonino collected with the Anaheim Ducks last season were on the power play.
If the Canucks couldn’t land Vrbata, they would have to keep looking or keep and eye on teams with salary cap compliancy problems and broker a trade later this summer. But Canucks general manager Jim Benning kept pitching for Vrbata.
The coaching staff and players will like the fact the Vrbata is old school. He’s honest, a good quote, amiable, analytical and will be as good in the room as he hopes to still be on the ice.
With a new coach Willie Desjardins pledging more pace and entertainment and flow and go, it piqued the curiosity of those looking for work, including Vrbata. That’s one big win.
Another was getting another free agent to commit to a Vancouver market that was theatre of the bizarre last season — strange systems, odd coaching, ice-time decisions and no playoffs — and it took more than dollars. It took sense. The best management spin was last season was a giant mulligan.
The worst reality is that this is a long work in progress with no prospect of returning to the playoffs unless the Canucks get big bounce-back years from Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows to overshadow the loss of leading scorer Ryan Kesler.
Vrbata has obviously taken that on as a challenge, not a hindrance.
To improve a 26th-ranked offence and 28th-ranked power play, the Canucks expect to exit their zone better with a style more conducive for those who can move the puck. By gaining the offensive zone through speed and transition — instead of dumping pucks in and having three forwards below the goalie fishing for a turnover — that promise is going to resonate with any skilled player. It did with Vrbata. Placing a bigger emphasis on shooting than shot-blocking didn’t hurt. It helped. A lot.
OF NOTE — The Canucks added to their franchise depth Wednesday by signing centres Dustin Jeffrey, 26, and Cal O’Reilly, 27, and defenceman Bobby Sanguinetti, 26. Jeffrey has 17 goals and 31 points in 124 career NHL games and split last season between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Stars and AHL Texas Stars, where he had four goals and 10 points in 21 games and played for Desjardins. The 6-foot-1, 205 pound Sarnia, Ont. native was the 171st selection by the Penguins in the 2007 draft. O’Reilly has 13 goals and 41 points in 113 career NHL games with the Nashville Predators, Arizona Coyotes and Penguins. He split last season between Magnitogorsk of the KHL and the Utica Comets, where he had seven goals and 52 points for returning coach Travis Green. The 6-foot, 188 pound Toronto native was drafted 150th overall by the Predators in 2005. Sanguinetti has two goals and six points in 45 career NHL games with the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes. He spent last season with Moscow Oblast of the KHL and had two goals and seven points in 15 games. The 6-foot-3, 190 pound Trenton, N.J. native was the 21st overall pick by the Rangers in the 2006 draft.
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