A familiar face is likely returning to the Valley. Unrestricted free-agent forward Radim Vrbata is in the process of finalizing a one-year deal with the Coyotes, per league sources that could be announced on Monday or Tuesday.
The deal includes a base salary of $1 million and bonuses for games played, goals, points and playoffs that could make it worth as much as $3.25 million.
Vrbata, 35, played two separate stints for the Coyotes. He posted then career-highs in goals (27) and points (56) in 2007-08, then signed a three-year, free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. It proved to be a bad situation with a team that finished with the NHL’s second-worst record, and Vrbata wound up finishing the season playing in the Czech Republic.
In the 2009 offseason, he was traded back to the Coyotes and enjoyed a renaissance. In 2011-12, with playmaking left wing Ray Whitney on his line, he posted a career-high 35 goals and 62 points as the Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference Final.
He had 12 goals and 28 points in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, and 20 goals and 51 points playing with mostly AHL-caliber off wings in 2013-14. He became a free agent after that season and was willing to remain with the Coyotes for essentially no raise on his previous three-year, $9 million deal, but the Coyotes offered him less and he eventually signed a two-year, $10 million deal with Vancouver.
In his first season with the Canucks, Vrbata had 31 goals and a career-high 63 points playing much of the year alongside the Sedin twins, but coach Willie Desjardins made the curious decision to split up that line for balance and play Vrbata with inexperienced centers. He slipped to 13 goals and 27 assists last season.
Vrbata is still in the Czech Republic with his wife, Petra, and three children. Their oldest, Krystof, is 7, so Vrbata knew he would have to make a decision soon because school was starting. His agent, Rich Evans, told Arizona Sports on July 18 that he was discussing deals with four clubs, but if he hadn’t received an offer from an NHL club by mid-August, Vrbata was prepared to stay home and play in Europe, or even retire.
The Coyotes had a desperate need for a top-six caliber right wing. The only players at that position on the current NHL roster (unless someone switches) are Anthony Duclair, Shane Doan and perhaps Ryan White. Doan is expected to assume a lesser role next season despite scoring a team-high 28 goals last season.
Colorado selected Vrbata in the seventh round (212th overall) of the 1999 NHL Draft. In 934 career NHL games, he has 259 goals and 554 points. It’s possible Vrbata could remain with the Coyotes beyond this deal, but he could also be viewed as a bridge until right-wing prospects such as Christian Fischer, Nick Merkley and Conor Garland are ready.
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