Coyotes’ Vrbata is Arizona chapter of PWHA’s nominee for Bill Masterton Trophy

Mar 29, 2017, 1:55 PM
Arizona Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata, front right, celebrates his game-winning goal against the ...
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)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Radim Vrbata’s agent, Rich Evans, jokes that his client sometimes makes it difficult to maximize his market value because he only wants to play for the Coyotes. Coach Dave Tippett sees the bigger picture in that stance by the team’s leading scorer.

“It shows that he’s not just playing for money,” Tippett said. “He wants to enjoy the game; wants to make sure his family is in the right spot. There’s a lot more to it than just money.”

Vrbata has been forced to leave the Valley twice in free agency — once for Tampa Bay; once for Vancouver. Neither stop ended well, so the 35-year-old Czech came back to the Coyotes for a third go-round in much the same way as he always does: on a bargain contract that belies his production.

“He’s been a steal here,” said former linemate Ray Whitney, who helped Vrbata record a career-high 35 goals in the 2011-12 season. “His production for money is such a high value.”

Given his monetary sacrifices, his humble professionalism and his dogged determination to get back to the place he loves, Vrbata is the Arizona chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s nominee for this season’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The trophy is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“He’s exhibited all of those by the longevity he’s had and his commitment to being just a real good pro — always committed to his team,” Tippett said. “He’s just a classy, good person.

“The ability to have an impact on the game after all these years, especially coming off a tough last year to come back and have the season he’s had, it speaks volumes about his character. We were hoping he’d have a real good year. Would he have the year he had? I don’t know if we were thinking that and I don’t know if he was thinking that. It turned out that way so it’s good for him.”

The Masterton Trophy winner is selected by a poll of the PHWA’s 31 chapters at the end of the regular season. The trophy commemorates the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars, who died from severe head injuries suffered in an NHL game on Jan. 15, 1968 against the Oakland Seals.

Vrbata leads the team with 18 goals and 53 points heading into Wednesday’s game with St. Louis. He will earn a base salary of $1 million this season, with $1 million more in incentives.

“There was a lot of unknown over the summer so with how everything worked out I couldn’t probably ask for it to be better,” Vrbata said. “Coming back here, personally having the season that I have had, achieving the goals that I had for the season, I’m happy with how it went personally for me, but obviously, for the team you wish you could do better.”

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