Among all the free agency talk this week, obsessing about Kevin Shattenkirk this and Alex Radulov that and Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton and Karl Alzner etc., the name Radim Vrbata does not seem to come up enough. For whatever reason, Vrbata is underappreciated among this year’s already sparse free agent crop.
Among pending unrestricted free agents, TheScore ranks Vrbata 17th, the Washington Post ranks him 11th, SportsNet has him at 18th, USA Today at 15th, and the Bleacher Report at fourth among right wings.
Preconceptions aside, Vrbata scored 20 goals and 55 points on a disastrous Arizona Coyotes team last season, leading the team on both counts. This was no one year outburst as, in addition to his on-ice PDO of 99.54, Vrbata has put up at least 20 goals and 50 points in three of the last four seasons between the ‘Yotes and the similarly moribund Vancouver Canucks. The one year he fell short of those numbers saw him limited to 63 games, and nagged by injury throughout.
Additionally, Vrbata has been a relatively positive possession player throughout his career, recording a relative Corsi for % of +1.24 during that time. His actual Corsi numbers are less impressive, but both the Coyotes and the Utica Comets were consistently more in control with him on the ice than they were without him.
Vrbata’s point production last season seems legit. 14 of his 20 5 on 5 assists were primary, and his IPP (individual points percentage, the percentage of goals scored with Vrbata on the ice on which he registered a point) in the desert was 82.5% at even strength, good enough for seventh in the NHL, right in between some schlubs named Tarasenko and McDavid.
Slotting that kind of production into the Sharks could go a long way in alleviating some of the scoring woes that plagued the team, particularly late into last season. Whether Thornton and Marleau stick around for one more tilt at the windmill or not, Vrbata is a legitimate scoring threat. The Czech’s 20 goals would have placed him fifth on the Sharks last year, his 55 points would be third, and his 0.68 points per game would be fourth, above Thornton and Marleau on all counts save one (Patty was third in goals).
San Jose’s depth at right wing leaves a lot to be desired, particularly this past season, where disappointing seasons from Joel Ward, Mikkel Boedker, and Joonas Donskoi necessitated the insertion of young players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier. If the kids stumble this season, or fail to develop the way they are expected to, Vrbata is a great insurance policy to shore up the right side. Vrbata can compete with NHL wingers anywhere in the bottom nine, and even produced at an effective rate playing top six minutes in Arizona.
Vrbata’s $2 million cap hit (after productivity bonuses) from last year ranks him 51st among pending UFAs, and his 36-year-old body combined with his previous salary seem to indicate a team getting a short term bargain on a still very productive player. Various reports have indicated that Vrbata would prefer to stay on in Arizona, but after the purge that organization has initiated over the past couple of weeks, it’s entirely possible that he will be available. If Doug Wilson just prints out the weather reports from the past few weeks in San Jose, Vrbata can feel right at home.
Radim Vrbata is a consistent threat, a six-time 20 goal scorer, and still has the foot speed to keep up with young punks Max Domi and Tobias Rieder for 81 games. He retains excellent vision and passing skills, and is responsible in all situations and anywhere on the ice. Somebody in this league is going to strike gold with a short-term deal in the Vrbata sweepstakes, humble though they may be, and the Sharks should be buying tickets.