With the trade deadline now just days away, we’re wrapping up our profiles of several players whose names are still on the trade block and are likely to be dealt by March 1st.
The Arizona Coyotes are 22-32-7 for 51 points, good enough for last place in the Pacific Division and second from the bottom in the NHL. They are in the bottom five in the league in both goals for and goals against, giving them a 29th-ranked -48 goal differential. The team is in a complete rebuild and has needs at every position. GM John Chayka has already dealt away young defenseman Michael Stone and just last night career-Coyote center Martin Hanzal.
So anyone who notices that the Coyotes’ top scorer is 35 years old and on a one-year, $1MM deal is right to assume that he is also on his way out of town. Radim Vrbata has returned to Arizona with a bang this season, leading a club that has been desperate for goals with a team-high 31 assists and 46 points and is second only to Hanzal with 15 goals and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in power play production. For a guy past his prime who scored only 27 points last season, Vrbata has had an excellent 2016-17 campaign and, like his other productive veteran teammates, has probably earned himself a ticket out of town.
Vrbata signed a one-year deal with Arizona this summer that carries $1MM base salary. However, there are some tricky bonus features to it, especially for contenders who are tight against the cap. Vrbata can earn an additional $2.25MM in performance bonuses, and in fact has already met several benchmarks. Vrbata is already owed $500K for playing in 30 games and another $500K for scoring more than 40 points. The remaining $1.25MM is tied to postseason performance, which he is guaranteed to miss out on if he remains with the Coyotes but would almost surely cash in on if traded to a contender. If Vrbata is traded, the new team will have to account for the salary cap repercussions beyond his $1MM cap hit – pro-rated to about $225K by Wednesday’s deadline – for the remainder of the year.
The myth surrounding Vrbata has always been that he doesn’t perform outside of Arizona. Just a quick look at his career numbers shows that is untrue. Vrbata has had strong seasons, dating all the way back to the beginning of career, in Colorado, Chicago, and most recently Vancouver. However, there is no doubt that he has enjoyed the majority of his best seasons with the Coyotes. After struggling in 2015-16, the second year of a two-year deal with the Canucks, Vrbata returned home to the desert on a one-year deal in search of comeback season. He certainly found it, as his 46 points through 61 games put him on pace to come close to his career-high 63 point total from two years ago. Yet, he’s accomplished this on one of the worst teams in the league. What leaves many teams deep in thought is whether that scoring would continue on a superior team in contention for a title or whether it is a product of the situation and system.
61 GP: 15 goals, 31 assists, 46 points, -14 rating, 186 shots, 17:01 ATOI
After their three biggest competitors in the Atlantic Division acquired help today, many have begun to doubt whether the Boston Bruins can hold true to their plan to stand pat at the Trade Deadline and not risk losing picks or prospects for no reason as they did last year. Count the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont as one of those proponents, and he believes that Vrbata would be the perfect fit for the Bruins to add another scoring threat, specifically with Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano on the team’s third line, now that coach Bruce Cassidy has his more offensive-minded system in place. Despite the high prices right now, Dupont speculates that a second-round selection and another pick or prospect could get the job done. The Bruins are also one of only a few contenders that doesn’t have to worry much about the cap implications of acquiring Vrbata.
However, if the price for Vrbata is what Dupont suggests it may be, teams will worry about Vrbata’s cap hit and outside-Arizona consistency later. As more and more teams make additions, other will grow more interested in one of the top scoring threats on the market. Name a contender, and they will have likely put a call in to Chayka by Wednesday’s deadline, whether it be the Washington Capitals, who could use some more speed; the Pittsburgh Penguins or Columbus Blue Jackets, who both need some depth; the San Jose Sharks, who are still sorting out their top lines; or even the Chicago Blackhawks, who seem to always be in the mix and have history with Vrbata.
Likelihood Of A Trade
After moving on from Hanzal and Stone, both of whom are younger and have spent more time with the organization in recent years, it would be odd if the Coyotes didn’t part ways with Vrbata. Besides, there is nothing stopping them from re-signing him this summer if he wants, and Vrbata seems to be one of the few NHL players, along with teammate Shane Doan, who really enjoy playing in Arizona. Despite their immense depth in prospects, the Coyotes still have needs throughout the lineup and are in no position to hold on to trade-able assets for no reason. This team is still in full rebuild mode and will almost surely take whatever picks and prospects they can get for Vrbata, a fitting end to a rewarding one-year deal in 2016-17.