While talking to the press at team media day on Thursday at Gila River Arena, Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata didn’t hesitate to describe his excitement regarding his offseason return to the Arizona Coyotes.
“It feels like coming back home. It really does.”
Vrbata has indeed called Arizona home for six of his NHL seasons and is set to begin his third stint with the Coyotes. He first came to the Valley of the Sun in 2007 and immediately had success as he posted a career high in points with 56 and nearly doubled his previous career high in goals with 27.
Despite his success in the desert, Vrbata departed Arizona for Tampa Bay following the 2007-08 season. However, things didn’t go as planned with the Lightning; he posted just six points in 18 games and finished the season playing in his home country of the Czech Republic.
Prosperity in the Desert
In 2009, the Lightning traded Vrbata back to Arizona where he immediately picked up where he left off; he led the 50-win 2009-10 Phoenix Coyotes in goals with 24 and established himself as a legitimate scoring threat in the NHL. Vrbata followed that up by scoring 19 goals in 2010-11, but it wasn’t until the 2011-12 season that he became a household name.
That year, Vrbata, while playing on the “Prime Line” alongside Ray Whitney and Martin Hanzal, broke out with an eye-popping total of 35 goals as he helped the Coyotes to their deepest playoff run in franchise history. Vrbata came back down to Earth a bit during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season as he scored just 12 goals, but was able to bounce back with another 20-goal campaign in 2013-14.
Vrbata’s contract expired following the 2013-14 season, and he expressed significant interest in coming back to the desert. However, then-GM Don Maloney was unwilling to grant Vrbata’s request to have a no-trade clause included in his contract, which resulted in Vrbata heading to Vancouver on a two-year, $10 million deal despite his willingness to accept less money to stay in Arizona.
In Vancouver, Vrbata had the chance to play alongside the Sedin twins and immediately prospered; he scored 31 goals, added 32 assists, and set a new career high in points while leading the Canucks to a playoff berth.
However, Vrbata’s second campaign in Vancouver was far less successful; he had just 13 goals while the team struggled to a woeful 31-38-13 finish. “If you look at those two years, it’s like black and white. The first season went as well as you could have hoped, and the second one didn’t (go as well).” Vrbata said on Thursday about his time in Vancouver.
As a result of the team’s poor 2015-16 season, Canucks management began clearing house, and Vrbata was one of the casualties; Vancouver elected not to re-sign him, and the veteran became a free agent for the second time in three offseasons.
Vrbata, Weber and Bartkowski will not be re-signed, according to Benning. #Canucks
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) June 23, 2016
When it became clear that the Coyotes might possibly start the season without Tobias Rieder, rumors began to swirl that they were interested in bringing back Vrbata. These rumors were proven true last month when the team announced that they had signed Vrbata to a one-year contract with a base salary of $1 million. For Vrbata, it was an easy choice to come back to Phoenix; his family loved living there and the veteran never really wanted to leave in the first place.
Radim Vrbata says he always had a great relationship with Dave Tippett and always straight forward coach.Perfect fit for him in AZ #Coyotes
— Ronnie L. (@YotesHereToStay) August 17, 2016
In addition to returning to a familiar home, Vrbata was also excited at the prospect of potentially playing alongside talented linemates such as Max Domi and Martin Hanzal. At media day, Vrbata said it would be “great” if Dave Tippett were to put the trio together on a line.
Vrbata had his greatest success as an NHL player during the 2011-12 season; he scored 35 goals for the Coyotes while playing alongside “The Wizard” Ray Whitney, and it’s possible that the dynamic Domi could help the 35-year-old Vrbata recapture some of that goalscoring prowess.
Vrbata also has outstanding chemistry with Hanzal; the two Czechs were linemates for most of Vrbata’s previous stint in Arizona and shouldn’t have any trouble at all with being linemates once again, even after Vrbata’s two-year absence.
Vrbata should immediately help the Coyotes offense become more effective; he’s a 15-year NHL veteran who is familiar with Dave Tippett’s system and is just a year removed from a 31-goal campaign. He’ll shine in a top-six role alongside a skilled player such as Max Domi or Anthony Duclair and will help a beleaguered Coyotes power play that has struggled with consistency since the departure of Keith Yandle at the trade deadline in 2015.