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UFA of the Day: Radim Vrbata

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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Radim Vrbata

Radim Vrbata’s time with the Canucks can be summed up as a difference of night and day from his first season in Vancouver to the second.

With free agency approaching, that team could lose the skilled veteran forward for nothing after failing to move him at this year’s trade deadline.

After signing for two years at a total of $10 million with the Canucks in the summer of 2014 — Jim Benning’s second big signing in his early tenure as GM — Vrbata was sold on the idea of playing on the right wing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Deft playmakers with the puck, it seemed like the perfect fit, especially given Vrbata’s mentality to shoot and his right shot.

Vrbata was matched up with the Sedin twins in that first season. In the 565 minutes of five-on-five time together, they had strong possession numbers and were productive as well, with 2.23 goals-for per 60 minutes and 1.59 goals-against per 60 minutes, as per stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

Vrbata scored 31 goals that season. And 63 points in 79 games. Twelve of those goals were on the power play, as were 23 of those points.

But the 2015-16 season was entirely the opposite. He scored 13 goals and 27 points in 63 games.

Vrbata’s time on a line with the Sedins was drastically reduced — between 169:30 to 173:24 at even strength. His production slipped in part because of a slow start, no points in the first six games. He played most of the season with sophomore center Bo Horvat and spent more time on a line with rookie Jared McCann than the twins.

He seemed increasingly frustrated, as the Canucks pushed in a new direction with younger players and with last summer’s trade of Nick Bonino.

“At my age, I know what my game needs to be successful,” Vrbata told Postmedia. “That’s why I signed here in the first place, to play with Hank and Danny.

“This year it was a different story. Nothing really clicked. It’s so hard to be successful if you don’t have chemistry. There just wasn’t the right chemistry.”

So, yeah, to reiterate, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back in Vancouver.

OK. So, what could be next?

Vrbata is about to turn 35 years old but is only a year removed from that 31-goal campaign.

Under the old management regime with Don Maloney as GM, the Coyotes and Vrbata actually seemed close to a new deal two years ago before he inked with Vancouver. The line in the sand appeared to be over no-trade/no-movement clauses.

In May, the Coyotes hired 26-year-old John Chayka as their new GM, but they also gave head coach Dave Tippett the title of executive vice president of hockey operations. Chayka will work side-by-side with Tippett, Vrbata’s former coach, on hockey personnel decisions.

Vrbata’s best collection of seasons came when he was with Tippett and the Coyotes, a team with only eight forwards under contract for next season, as per General Fanager.

Is past history enough to open up the possibility for a future reunion between Vrbata and Tippett? Or has that ship sailed given the new direction with the Coyotes. 

Citing Vrbata’s agent, Rich Evans, the Vancouver Sun reported in March of 2015 that Vrbata had “at least six teams were bidding for his services.”

It will be interesting to see how many teams show interest in Vrbata this summer, following two polar opposite seasons in Vancouver.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Miller scored an awesome water bottle breaker in OT

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Over time, you can become jaded as a sports (and specifically hockey) fan.

Stories about abusive coaches, lockouts, fans booing players for simply no longer being on their teams — it can sap some of the joy of the game.

Thankfully, we have highlights, and I can’t think of many simpler joys than someone scoring a goal and absolutely obliterating the goalie’s water bottle in the process. (As long as no one gets too dehydrated in the making of such films.)

Vancouver Canucks winger J.T. Miller did it one better on Saturday: he scored an important goal that way. Miller presented the ultra-rare OTBBGWG (overtime bottle-breaking game-winning goal) as the Canucks beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 in OT.

Bask in the glory of that goal in the video above this post’s headline. Here’s a fun alternate angle:

By the way, Miller continues to be a deadly offensive weapon for the Canucks. This one-goal, one-assist output extended his current point streak to an impressive eight games (5G, 6A for 11 points). Overall, Miller has 31 points in 30 games during his first season in Vancouver.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.