2011 Free Agent Targets: Radim Vrbata and Vernon Fiddler

In order to expedite the process of these free agent profiles we're hitting you with a double whammy in the late afternoon. Vernon Fiddler and Radim Vrbata are two players who have different skill sets of course, but since they both played for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, profiling them together makes sense.

Radim Vrbata is a player who, at the age of 30, still has some good years left ahead of him. A goal scoring winger who would be brought in to replace the recently traded Devin Setoguchi, Vrbata has displayed some solid scoring pop throughout his career. In his last three full years in the NHL (he returned to the Czech Republic in the middle of the 2008-2009 season when his wife had issues with her pregnancy) Vrbata scored 27, 24, and 19 goals respectively. Furthermore, he is a winger who has not had any issues with his health, playing in all but nine games during that time frame. At the age of thirty years old, that fact is one that makes him a low risk signing when it comes to his bill of health.

In terms of advanced metrics, Vrbata ranked fifth and third in terms of quality of competition for the Coyotes during the past two years, coming out on the positive side of the ledger in both campaigns. His offensive zone starts were a shade below the 50% mark during both those seasons as well, but I wouldn't classify him as a defensive specialist. That being said, Vrbata is a top-six winger who is paired against opposing team's best defenseman on every night and has the hands to score goals in bunches while still taking care of business in his own end.

If the Sharks want a goal scoring forward to play in their top six and leave Joe Pavelski on the third line, Vrbata is an intriguing possibility for the team. There is no doubt Pavelski would be more effective that Vrbata in a top six role (Pavelski is a much better player), but with scoring depth a benefit for the Sharks, Vrbata's inclusion on the team provides Todd McLellan with numerous options to construct a third line that can score.

It should be cautioned that Vrbata is somewhat of a power play specialist-- ten out of his nineteen goals last year came with the man advantage, making him a marginal risk considering he wouldn't be receiving first line man advantage minutes with San Jose. Another downside to Vrbata is that he does not fulfill any sort of penalty killing role, something that the Sharks will be looking to acquire following the departure of Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers.

Which is where Vernon Fiddler would come in.

Vernon Fiddler is the opposite of Vrbata in this sense. A defensive specialist, the 31 year old centerman was groomed under Barry Trotz in the grit and grind system of the Nashville Predators, Fiddler continued to take on that role when he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes in the summer of 2009. Over the last two seasons Fiddler has ranked first on the Coyotes in terms of defensive zone starts at even strength, a go to guy in this regard. Furthermore, his faceoff ability (which has hovered around the 53% mark annually) makes him an attractive option for the third or fourth line in San Jose.

Where Fiddler truly shines is on the penalty kill. As Derek Zona of Copper & Blue noted yesterday in an article that tells you all you need to know about Fiddler, he has been a stand out defensive player throughout his career:

Over the last four seasons, Fiddler has taken only 40.8% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, a number amongst the lowest in the NHL over that span. His faceoff percentage over the period was 53.0%, impressive given the large number of defensive zone faceoffs. Adjusting his raw Corsi value for zonestart shows that Fiddler was a breakeven player by possession metrics. I've included his penalty kill time on ice in the above table as well. Fiddler has been a first-option penalty killer for two different coaches over the last four seasons, something the Oilers desperately need to shore up their terrible special teams.

>> UFA Target - Vern Fiddler

Although Andrew Desjardins has been pegged to replace Scott Nichol on the Sharks fourth line, Fiddler's defensive acumen makes him an extremely attractive choice to help groom the young Desjardins. If San Jose is attempting to mold Desjardins into a hard to play against centerman with some marginal scoring pop, Fiddler is an excellent mentor-- by no means would he be expected to score goals in bunches, but with three seasons of 11 goals smattered alongside a few six and eight goal campaigns, he would provide some marginal offensive ability alongside his excellent defensive ability.

Contracts: One year at $2.5 MM for Vrbata, two years at $1.4 MM for Fiddler.

Roles: Vrbata replaces Devin Setoguchi in San Jose's top six, sliding down to the third line when Joe Pavelski is promoted; he receives second unit power play time.

Fiddler plays either wing or center on San Jose's lower lines, leading the team in penalty kill minutes.