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Vrbata’s trade deadline value presents dilemma for Coyotes, other NHL teams

Arizona Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata, front right, celebrates his game-winning goal against the New York Islanders during the shootout of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Islanders 2-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Radim Vrbata no longer worries about where he’ll be next season. He still cares, but in 15 NHL seasons, Vrbata has played for six NHL clubs. Few veterans understand the business of hockey better than the 35-year old Czech, so as the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline approaches, Vrbata is keeping things in perspective.

“There’s no protection in my contract so you have to expect everything,” he said Tuesday. “You have no control over it.”

Vrbata provides an interesting case for both the Coyotes and teams that may be looking to add scoring at the deadline. He is on an expiring contract so he could be an attractive rental because he leads the Coyotes in goals (11), assists (22), points (33) and shots (144).

But if teams want him, they must accept the fact that he has a number of bonuses they will have to pay after the season on top of his prorated, bargain $1 million base contract. Vrbata has already played 30 games to earn a $500,000 bonus. If he reaches 20 goals or 40 points, he’ll earn another $500,000. He could also add up to $1.25 million in playoff bonuses, based on qualifying and then advancing, round-to-round.

The new team would pay all of those bonuses, including the 30-game bonus.

On the Coyotes’ end, it’s hard to say what sort of return Vrbata would bring. In a normal market, he’d probably bring a mid-round pick anywhere between the third and fifth rounds, but this is not a normal market. Only two teams are out of the playoff picture, Colorado and Arizona.

Entering Wednesday’s game, the last-place teams in the Eastern Conference, New Jersey and Tampa Bay at 49 points, were just four points behind Toronto (53) for the final wild card spot while Boston, the third-place team in the Atlantic Division, had 54 points.

In the Western Conference, six points separated sixth-place Nashville from 12th-place Winnipeg.

If that situation changes over the final five weeks before the deadline, more teams could flood the market with players, but if it doesn’t change, the Coyotes could benefit from a short supply of assets and Vrbata could command a higher price.

Several NHL executives said the market is quiet right now as teams wait to see how things shake out and determine whether they will be sellers or buyers.

Vrbata doesn’t want to leave or uproot his family again. He took a bargain salary to return to Arizona for a third time, but he might be open to coming back a fourth time if the Coyotes do deal him and then decide they’d like his veteran leadership around again next year. That could become more important if captain Shane Doan moves on, or retires after this season.

Vrbata is enjoying his role as a locker room leader and it’s not just talk. A quiet player for much of his career, Vrbata has come out of his shell noticeably in his third tour of duty with the Coyotes. He’s flashed a sense of humor with the media, and he is often seen talking to younger players such as Christian Dvorak, who sits next to him in the Coyotes locker room.

“I always bounce questions off him if I have anything and he’s just a great guy to have around,” Dvorak said. “Obviously, we get to spend a lot of time together since we sit next to each other, but it’s not just that, it’s on the ice or off the ice.”

The Coyotes haven’t had any recent discussions with Vrbata’s camp about trading him, but GM John Chayka and Vrbata’s agent, Rich Evans, will likely chat over the All-Star break. It would be odd to see Vrbata leave again, and even stranger to see him come back a fourth time. It’s not certain he would do that rather than take the family back to the Czech Republic and maybe play a couple seasons there.

The next couple weeks will offer more clarity.

“We’ll see what happens,” Vrbata said.

Canucks at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale

TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Records: Coyotes — 15-26-6. Canucks — 23-20-6.

Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out indefinitely. LW Max Domi (hand) is week-to-week. RW Shane Doan (upper body) is probable to play. Canucks — D Ben Hutton (hand), D Philip Larsen (upper body) and RW Anton Rodin (knee) are day-to-day. D Erik Gudbranson (wrist), RW Derek Dorsett (shoulder) and RW Jannik Hansen (knee) are out indefinitely.

Scouting the Canucks: The Canucks won Wednesday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche and are 3-1-1 in their last five games. … C Henrik Sedin became the 85th player to score 1,000 NHL points, the 38th to do it with one franchise, the fourth born in Sweden and the first to do it with the Canucks when he took a pass from twin brother, Daniel, on a 2-on-1 and scored in Vancouver’s 2-1 win over Florida on Friday. … Sedin and C Bo Horvat lead the team with 32 points apiece; Horvat leads the team with 14 goals.

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