Two years ago, right winger Radim Vrbata was one of the more sought after forwards on the free agent market. This summer, he has more or less been an afterthought through the first week. Here is a closer look at his free agent situation.
Vrbata signed a two year deal with the Canucks in the summer of 2014 with the hopes that he could be a reliable scoring winger to play with the Sedin twins. For the first year of that contract, he did exactly that, scoring 31 goals and 32 assists for a career high in points with 63. Unfortunately for Vrbata and the Canucks, 2015-16 was an entirely different story.
Last season, he collected just 13 goals and 14 assists in 63 games while missing some time with a pair of lower body injuries. Those 27 points were his lowest since 2003-04 while his -30 plus/minus rating was second worst in the entire NHL. Between his struggles and a $5MM contract, Vancouver was unable to find a taker for him at the trade deadline.
Teams will now be wondering if last season was a sign of things to come or just an off year. At 35 years of age, it’s certainly possible to think that he won’t be able to get back to his top line form. On the other hand, he has averaged greater than half a point per game for six straight years before last season so there’s a case to be made that his track record suggests he’s worth another shot.
At this stage of his career, no one is mistaking Vrbata for a top line forward. He’s one of those players who profiles as a second/third liner that can play on a power play. Montreal showed considerable interest in him two years ago but likely doesn’t have enough money to sign him without having to make a trade beforehand. Teams like the Senators, Hurricanes, Rangers, Ducks, Bruins, and Sabres all have the cap space and a potential roster spot for a player like Vrbata but so far, no specific team has been reported to show interest in him.
Vrbata ranked 27th on our Top 50 UFA list and we had projected that he wouldn’t have much difficulty getting a deal as one of the secondary scorers in free agency. Obviously, that didn’t happen so our projection of $3.7MM on a one year deal is probably going to be too high. A one year contract remains likely though given his inconsistency from last season and the fact a multi-year deal would trigger the 35+ clause similar to what the Red Wings had to deal with when it came to Pavel Datsyuk’s retirement.