Edmonton - July 3, 2014 - The Canucks made another move to shore up their scoring last night, the team announced they have signed free agent forward Radim Vrbata to a two year $10M deal. The deal includes a limited NTC, which allows Vrbata to select 8 teams in the league he would accept a trade to should a trade situation arise.
Vrbata is a solid pickup for the Canucks, he scored 20 goals and 51 points in 80 games for the Coyotes last season, had a CF% Rel of +0.8% and a CF% of 51.3%. He was getting really good zone starts, starting 53.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone with an offensive zone finish of 51.8%. His ability to start and finish in the offensive zone is a good indicator of his Corsi, he was part of an offensive line that was consistently playing in the offensive zone, generating chances. These are solid numbers, his zone starts were sheltered, but he is an offensive guy and was playing heavy offensive minutes for Arizona. His forte is skill and vision, with a calmness and ability to finish. Just two seasons ago he scored 35 goals in 77 games. Adding him to the Sedin line is a great move. He will be the perfect complimentary player with the twins and a great option on the power play.
The opportunity to play with the Sedins was a definite factor in Vrbata signing with the Canucks, and his agent speaking on Wednesday night is hopeful his client takes the chance and runs with it.
“I guess he’s going to have to earn the spot but the opportunity is hopefully there for him to do that,” Evans continued. “The twins play a style of game that is well suited to the style that Radim plays, which is pitch and catch where they move the puck very quickly. The twins are both smart players and he is hoping to recapture some of the success he had when he was playing with Ray Whitney down in Phoenix.”
The Sedins get their scoring winger, an area of weakness last season came when Burrows was unable to resume his role with the Sedins, and there was nobody who could step in and compliment the twins. Vrbata brings that ability in spades and should pot at least 20 goals. The Sedins had a rough season in 2013-14, but injuries and team direction under Tortorella were big factors. They should have bounce back seasons under Desjardins.
This move follows the signing of Ryan Miller on July 1, and both are solid additions by Benning. The term on Miller is a little long for my liking, but Miller will be good enough to help Vancouver challenge for a playoff spot for the next two seasons at least, at which point Eddie Lack should be ready to take over the number one role. Playing in front of the defense in Vancouver should give Miller an added boost, especially since he played most of last season in Buffalo behind a far less impressive cast.
The defence is shaping up nicely as well, and losing Garrison doesn’t feel like such a big deal when you consider how poor he was overall last season and the guys remaining on the roster. The key for the defense this year relies on Edler having a bounce back season. He underperformed mightily last season, but he is a great player. With a long off season to heal any lingering injuries, Edler should come to camp fresh and ready to anchor the top pairing.
Adding more offense seems likely; the second line is still looking bleak on the wings in terms of offensive production. Burrows needs to have a bounce back season, but I wouldn’t count on it. Players of the Burrows mould often start breaking down and once the legs go it is hard for them to keep pace in the NHL. Last season he lost his spot with the Sedins, and injuries added up. With Vrbata coming in to the top line RW spot, Burrows shifts down to the second line to play with the newly acquired Bonino. Adding a LW to that line should be a focus for Benning now that he has a first line scorer in Vrbata.
There are not really any options left in terms of high quality scoring wingers in the free agent market, though Dustin Penner and Lee Stempniak remain on the market as decent second tier options. Penner and Stempniak are both solid possession players, and can contribute offensively as well. Stempniak has more speed than Penner and can also provide some penalty killing ability. He scored 12 goals and 34 points in 73 games last season. Penner brings a bigger body, though he doesn’t play a big-body style. He is much calmer on the ice than many would like, but he has a good scoring touch and can be an effective net presence on the power play. Last season he scored 14 goals and 35 points in 67 games. Penner is often labeled as lazy, but with those point totals and the fact that he could be added cheap, he could be a good buy low option for Benning.
The Canucks may choose to stand pat and see how youngsters Horvat, Shinkaruk, and the newly acquired Vey perform in training camp and the pre-season. If one of these young players comes in and wins a spot in the top 6, it would take some pressure off of Benning to find another scoring winger. Horvat projects as a center, but it might ease his transition to start on the wing as there is less responsibilty. Shinkaruk, who was nearly dealt at the Draft, will need to prove he is not negatively effected by the injuries of this past season. He needs to add strength to play in the NHL, but he is a tenacious scoring winger with lots of potential.
Jake Virtanen, the Canucks 6th overall draft pick in this year’s draft, will likely need more time to season in the CHL. He has an incredible shot, but the rest of his game still needs time to develop. Many fans were upset with the selection of Virtanen, especially with the highly skilled Nylander, and Nick Ritchie left on the board. However Virtanen possesses one-shot scoring ability. It was a cautious pick to make, especially since Virtanen’s point totals were heavily leaning towards his goal total. Virtanen is a great skater, and likes to play a physical style. If he can develop his overall game a little more, he could turn into a premier power forward in the NHL.
The summer is still young, just three days into free agency now. All of the high scoring, high profile options are off the market, but the Canucks made solid additions with Miller and Vrbata. Finding one more top 6 player remains on the list for Benning as the summer rolls along. The options left in free agency are a little underwhelming, but Benning has shown a willingness to deal with other teams. With so many teams up against the cap a capable top 6 forward could shake loose and I have no doubt Benning will be one of the first to call.
This article uses quotes from vancouversun.com and stats from extraskater.com