If general manager Doug Wilson is to be believed, the Sharks will not be very active when the NHL's unrestricted free agency period opens tomorrow. Early in the offseason, Wilson told CSN Bay Area the team would "probably not" be players in the free agent market, a sentiment he reiterated on the draft floor this past weekend. And yet, the Sharks appear to be one of the few teams still in the running for Phoenix Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata, who is slated to test the market:
Appears to be 5-6 teams expressing interest in Radim Vrbata. Teams include TB,MTL,SJ and BOS. #TSN— Aaron Ward (@aaronward_nhl) June 30, 2014
Ignoring everything Wilson has said about the Sharks entering a rebuild phase and therefore not wanting to sign free agents who would supersede younger players' spots on the depth chart, Vrbata is a perfect fit in San Jose. With Brent Burns back on defense and Marty Havlat the target of a compliance buyout, the Sharks are perilously thin at right wing and in dire need of a top-nine forward capable of replacing Burns' offense. Vrbata is that forward, as we discussed in a piece on Burns' potential replacements.
The Czech winger is coming off a season in which he scored 20 goals despite shooting a paltry 7.6%; even at 33, the dude is clearly still a shot-generating machine. He's been a top-50 5v5 scorer over the past three seasons while playing on an offensively-challenged Coyotes club where the defense-focused Martin Hanzal was his usual center; imagine what he could do on Joe Thornton's wing. Probably enough to warrant the 3-4 years and $4.5 million per season he's reportedly asking for.
All that said, and as much as I think signing Vrbata (provided it isn't for longer than three years) would be a prudent move, I can't see the Sharks doing it. I take Wilson at his word that he's going to give prospects and younger players the chance to grab larger roles on the team in training camp and that'll be nearly impossible to do with someone like Vrbata on board. The Canadiens need a Brian Gionta replacement and can offer Vrbata the chance to play on a line with countryman Tomas Plekanec so I imagine they'll likely end up signing him. But I'd love to be wrong.