Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Meet A New Canuck: Radim Vrbata

Meet a new Canuck is a feature Markus Meyer (@Markus_Meyer27) and I will be running throughout the off-season as an introduction to the newest members of the Vancouver Canucks. Up next: Radim Vrbata.

Radim Vrbata


After a solid season in which he scored 60 points in 54 games for Hull in the QMJHL, Vrbata was drafted all the way down at 212th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 1999. After his draft year, Vrabata’s offense in junior exploded – he posted 74 points the next season and followed that up with a monster 56 goals and 120 points in only 55 games with Shawinigan – and it looked like the Avalanche had a legitimate sniper on their hands.

Vrbata’s rookie season in Colorado was solid, as he netted 18 goals in 52 games, but the sophomore slump hit him hard (11 goals in 66 games with the Avs the following season), and he was traded to Carolina in exchange for The Amazing Race Season 22 winner (and also NHL forward) Bates Battaglia at the 2003 trade deadline. Unfortunately, his time with the Hurricanes would not be productive, as he managed only 35 points in 106 games with the club over parts of three seasons. It was starting to look like the junior scoring wizard wasn’t going to be able to find his offensive game in the NHL.

A trade to Chicago in 2005 offered Vrbata a fresh start, but the Blackhawks were just awful at the time, which didn’t help Vrbata’s production. However, he did start to finally hit the scoresheet with some regularity, posting 14 goals and a career-high 41 points in his second season with the Hawks in 2006-07. Despite that success, Vrbata again found himself on the move, this time landing in Phoenix in exchange for Kevyn Adams during the summer of 2007.

Vrbata’s first season in Phoenix would be one of the most successful of his career. He set new career highs in goals (27), assists (29), and points (56), finally emerging as a quality secondary offensive player on the wing. It couldn’t have come at a better time either, as Vrbata hit the UFA market, and signed a three-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Unfortunately, just as things were looking like they had turned in Vrbata’s favor, his stint in Tampa was a struggle from the start. He managed only 3 goals in 18 games for the club, before requesting a leave of absence from the team. He was having some complications at the time in his personal life, including a difficult pregnancy for his wife, which lead to concentration and consistency issues on the ice. The Lightning granted permission for Vrbata to leave the team and return to his native Czech Republic.

He continued to play hockey while overseas, but soon felt the desire to return to the NHL for the 2009-10 season. Though he intended to honor his contract with Tampa, the Lightning had moved on and no longer had space for Vrbata on their roster. They were able to facilitate a trade however, and he was sent to the Coyotes for a second stint with the team, in exchange for David Hale and Todd Fedoruk.

Vrbata picked up right where he left off in Phoenix, potting 24 goals in 82 games and emerging as one of the offensive leaders for the Coyotes. His time in the desert would prove to be very fruitful, as he scored 110 goals and 232 points over five seasons, highlighted by the 2011-12 campaign that saw Vrbata post new career highs in goals (35) and points (62), while also leading the NHL in game-winning goals (12).

It was during this time in Phoenix that Vrbata developed the reputation as one of the most underrated wingers in the NHL, a reputation well-earned as his speed and good hands helped him to become a legitimate offensive threat every time he was on the ice. The problem was, very few people around the NHL noticed because of the market in which he played.

However, executives around the league were certainly aware of Vrbata’s abilities, which led the Canucks to sign the 33-year-ld to a two-year, $10 million contract this summer.

Internationally, Vrbata has represented his country in numerous competitions, winning gold a the 2001 IIHF World Junior Championships in Moscow and also winning gold at the 2005 IIHF World Senior Championships in Vienna. Collectively Vrbata has scored 10 goals and 17 points in 27 senior-level matches.


Vrbata’s Role in Vancouver:

Vrbata’s role on the Canucks is pretty easy to figure out, as the opportunity to play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin was a huge factor in his decision to sign with Vancouver and it seems like management intends to give him that opportunity to start the season.

In many ways, it makes a lot of sense to slide Vrbata onto the Sedins’ right side. One of Vrbata’s greatest strengths, aside from his speed and goal-scoring ability, is his knack for finding the soft, open areas on the ice. If he can find some room in the offensive zone, it’s guaranteed that he’ll have the puck on a pass from Daniel or Henrik and be putting it into the back of the net before opposing defensemen have even realized what’s happened.

Additionally, the Sedins have always needed a Alex Burrows-type on the their line, a player with good two-way ability that can force turnovers and offer a quick transition outlet to one of the twins. While Vrbata may not quite have the same skills as Burrows in that regard, he’s no slouch either and should be able to get the job done while his superior offensive skills more than make up for the difference.

As for Burrows, it’s assured that he’ll be sliding down the lineup and away from his accustomed position riding shotgun for the Twins. For his part though, it seems as if Burrows isn’t perturbed. He said in a recent interview, “If he’s with the twins, great, or if I’m with them – at the end of the day, winning is more important than personal stats. That’s how I’m looking at it.” At this point in his career, a second-line wing/PK specialist role is probably more suitable for Burrows anyways.

Speaking of Burrows, he actually has a connection to Vrbata, as they were teammates together on Shawinigan when both were 19 years old. Of course Vrbata was a first-liner back then as well, while Burrows played further down the lineup, so this configuration is nothing new to either of them. Both seem to be friendly with each other, hopefully eliminating any friction that Vrbata taking Burrows’ place could potentially cause.

Vrbata will add a few more dynamics to the Canucks offense as well. He will also look to improve the power play, where his 11 PP goals with Phoenix last year would have led the Canucks. With Ryan Kesler now gone from the PP unit, Vancouver will certainly look for Vrbata to pick up some of the slack, and improve a Canucks power play that was 26th in the league last year.

He’ll also help to improve Vancouver’s shootout record. Vrbata finished 5 for 12 last season in Phoenix (41.7%), far and away better than what any Canucks shooter managed last season. In fact, his career 35-for-82 (42.7%) record on shootout attempts is the 5th highest among all players currently in the NHL. Needless to say, he should be able to help Vancouver improve over their 11-11 record in extra time from last year.

Lastly, Vrbata’s presence, and more specifically his contract, serve a very vital purpose to the Vancouver organization. While some critics balked at the cap hit, the term is the perfect length for him to provide offensive production for the club until such time as some of the team’s younger players are able to step in and establish themselves as the new core of the team. Yes, he’s a veteran addition to a team looking to get younger, but only $10 million over two years is actually a pretty small investment.

All told, it doesn’t seem as though there is much downside to this signing. Vrabta seems to have the complementary skills, veteran experience, and offensive awareness to mesh well with the Sedins, while also aiding the power play and shootout, two sore spots for the Canucks last year. Expect Vrbata to make a solid offensive impact for the Canucks, and to prove to be one of the shrewdest signings of the offseason.

Previous Meet A New Canuck Profiles:

Nick Bonino

Bobby Sanguinetti

Linden Vey

And still to come, Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa, and the big one, Ryan Miller.

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