Botchford: The role of Sedin sidekick filled once again
Radim Vrbata the latest winger to get a chance to produce as the twins’ linemate
No wonder Radim Vrbata passed up on longer-term offers to sign with Vancouver.
Not only does he get to join the Canucks and get paid $5 million a year to do it, he gets membership into an exclusive club.
Well, it’s actually not all that exclusive.
It seems every winger the Canucks bring in gets promised a spot with the Sedins at some point.
Go down the list — and it’s a long one — and it includes Jan Bulis, Pavol Demitra, Mikael Samuelsson, Steve Bernier, Taylor Pyatt and even Zack Kassian. And more.
It’s become a rite of passage in the Lower Mainland. And for many of those guys, it’s felt like a hazing.
Vrbata is the latest player enticed to Vancouver, at least partly, with a sugar-plum pledge that he could be the next winger who gets the coveted role of riding saddlecar with the twins.
Vancouver GM Jim Benning, who has yet to run into a question he doesn’t answer openly and honestly, admitted he was chasing Vrbata because he believes his right-handed shot and adoration for shooting pucks is a fit with 22 and 33.
“He’s smart, and he can jump into the hole,” said Benning. “I think he’ll fit in with them given his skill set.
“At the end of the day, the coach will make that decision, but I think he’s a good fit.”
The numbers back Benning up. The Sedins could use a shooter with a right-handed shot, especially on their power play.
With his 263 shots, Vrbata was 11th in the NHL. His ten power play goals tied him for 13th. This is promising.
Many have been hoping that Kassian, the Canucks’ best young forward, would get his chance to play with the twins, after scoring 13 even-strength goals, third on the team. He did it playing in a defensive, third-line role for most of the season, and most impressively, with Brad Richardson as his centre.
Vrbata, by the way, scored 10 even-strength goals last year.
But Kassian is again going to have to get back in line.
For the past four years, riding shotgun with the Sedins has been Alex Burrows territory.
In a four-season stretch from 2009-10 to 2012-13 he averaged 30 goals over 82 games. It earned him, and he did earn it, that four-year, $18 million contract he’s one season into.
After he signed it, however, he had a season nightmares are made of. His foot broke on the first game, then he had his jaw broken. As if that wasn’t enough, he suffered a sprained hand and then hurt his knee at the world championship.
When he was healthy, he played like he had a fanny pack filled with black cats, broken mirrors and chain letters he failed to respond to.
He got in 49 games, firing 104 shots on net, but scored just five goals with a ridiculously low 4.8 shooting percentage.
He will not repeat that performance. But can he ever score 20-25 goals again if he’s not playing with the Sedins?
We may soon find out.
“We want to have scoring depth, and if we can move Alex from our first line to our second line, it makes our second line better,” Benning said. “We have (Nick) Bonino, who had 22 goals last year. I don’t know what the coach is thinking on the other side, whether it’s going to be (Zack) Kassian or (Jannik) Hansen.
“That will be up to him to decide.
“But I think now, we have depth at the forward positions where every line can contribute in the scoring, and that’s one of the things we set out to do.”
Benning said his focus now moves on to signing his restricted free agents, Kassian, Chris Tanev, Linden Vey and Yannick Weber.
“We’re probably going to go into the season with this team,” Benning said. “We’re going to see where we stand and go from there.”
The Canucks did lose Mike Santorelli, who signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal in Toronto.
Benning said he made a choice between Vrbata and Santorelli and the team wasn’t likely ever going to sign both.
“We were in contact with his agent throughout the whole process,” Benning said. “We just felt Radim was a more consistent scorer, and he’s done it over a longer period of time.”
NOTE: The Canucks announced they signed Utica defenceman Alex Biega.
© Copyright (c) The Province