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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.

Rangers’ Lemieux sets up Kakko for beauty vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers ended the first period up 2-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday (watch live on NBCSN; stream here) thanks, in part, to some tremendous passing.

Most impressively, Brendan Lemieux sent a tremendous long bomb of a pass, beating multiple Penguins defenders, to Kaapo Kakko, who scored what might have been his best goal in the NHL so far by finishing the play with great moves.

This marks the first multi-game point streak for Kakko, 18, who also scored a goal against the Florida Panthers on Sunday. The second pick of the 2019 NHL Draft now has five goals and seven points so far in his rookie season, and still has two periods to add more during his 16th game.

The Penguins failed on two power plays in the first period, pushing them to 0-for-28. They haven’t scored a PPG since mid-October.

[More on the Penguins’ struggling power play]

To make matters worse for the Penguins, Artemi Panarin sent a tremendous pass to defenseman Adam Fox for the 2-0 goal with less than 10 seconds left.

Pittsburgh’s been a slow-starting team quite often in 2019-20, and in some cases have been able to rally for comeback wins. We’ll see if they can pull off another one on Tuesday, as it’s been a very weak start, as it’s possible it could have been more than a 2-0 lead for the Rangers after 20 minutes.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins meet Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are coming off a 3-2 (SO) win on Saturday – a game they trailed 2-0 midway through the second period. It was their third straight game rallying from a multi-goal deficit. Despite earning the win against Chicago, Sidney Crosby left in the third period with a lower-body injury. He has been ruled out for this game, and his status beyond that is unknown.

Pittsburgh enters this game on a massive power play drought. They have not scored a power play goal in their previous 11 games, going 0-for-25 in that span. The total drought actually extends to the game prior to that, when they failed on their final attempt, so the Pens are 0-for-their-last-26 overall.

Rangers No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, suffered on Oct. 27 on a hit from Patrice Bergeron. Zibanejad will reportedly not travel with the team to Florida, meaning he is out for at least the next three games. He was leading the team with 11 points in nine games prior to his departure from the lineup.

After alternating starts at the beginning of the season, the Rangers have spent the past few weeks giving chunks of consecutive starts to each of their netminders. Alex Georgiev will get the start in this game – his seventh of the season – after Henrik Lundqvist started the previous three.

[COVERAGE OF PENGUINS-RANGERS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Alex GalchenyukJared McCannJake Guentzel
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Dominik KahunNick BjugstadSam Lafferty
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Brian DumoulinJohn Marino
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Jack JohnsonJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Chris Kreider – Filip Chytil – Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenKaapo Kakko
Greg McKeggLias AnderssonBrendan Smith

Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

MORE: Crosby out vs. Rangers, injury still being evaluated

Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

Stars coach apologizes to Seguin, Benn for post-game comments

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After the Dallas Stars were on the losing end of a 3-2 overtime decision against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, coach Jim Montgomery expressed some frustration with the current lack of production of his top players, and even though he never mentioned Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn by name it was pretty obvious which players he was talking about.

It was the second year in a row (around the same point in the season) the Stars’ top-two forwards were the focal points of internal criticism, facing even more scathing criticism from team CEO Jim Lites this past December.

On Tuesday, Montgomery said he apologized to the team and the individual players for what he described as an emotional mistake, while also adding, “We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

That comes via Mike Heika of the Stars’ website.

Following the game on Sunday Montgomery said he was “disappointed” in the production of the team’s top players, and was dismissive when asked if he had seen any signs of progress.

He later added, “They’ve got to decide that they want to be a difference maker.”

Seguin and Benn did not seem bothered by the criticism and acknowledged on Tuesday that they need to produce more. They have combined for just four goals so far this season, though Seguin is still producing some assists and is tied for the team lead in scoring.

Even so, it is always noteworthy when a coach singles out individual players following a loss, especially when it is the team’s best players. Even with the lack of goal-scoring from the Stars’ big-two, they have still won seven of their past nine games and collected 15 out of a possible 18 points in those games to start building some momentum following a disappointing start. A lot of the improvement has been due to their goaltending and some depth players stepping up and producing.

Related: Seguin, Benn facing more internal criticism

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Why Flyers fans have reason for optimism

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I’ve been on the fence about what to think of this Philadelphia Flyers team going all the way back to the offseason. There is reason to be encouraged by their roster, and there is at the same time every reason to have serious concerns about their roster.

Even now, with the team rapidly climbing the standings with eight wins in the past 11 games (including five in a row, and points in six in a row) those same feelings of confusion still exist. They are winning and collecting points — against very good teams! — but they are doing it while being completely dependent on overtime and shootouts.

Just as is the case with the St. Louis Blues and their recent hot streak (read about that here), there is an element of good fortune and luck to that sort of winning. You can’t keep relying on overtime and shootouts over an 82-game season if you want to be a playoff team and become a contender. But here’s the positive sign for the Flyers — from a big picture standpoint this season they are still exhibiting some signs that they might have some staying power. They might be a little lucky right now when it comes to their OT and shootout success, but there is also still reason to believe they have been a little unlucky to this point in pretty much every other area. At 5-on-5 play the Flyers have been one of the top-10 teams in a lot of key areas.

• Shot attempt share: 6th in NHL
• Expected goals share: 10th in NHL
• Scoring chance share: 5th in NHL
• High-danger scoring chance share: 9th in NHL

To be in the top-10 in all of those categories nearly a quarter of the way through the season is a pretty good sign and something a team can definitely build on. If a team is able to stay there, it is probably going to be a team one is a serious contender, especially if it gets even somewhat competent goaltending on top of it.

What should be encouraging for Flyers fans is they have played well this season, they have already collected a lot of points (they have the sixth best points percentage in the NHL), and you can make the argument that their four most important players — Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and goalie Carter Hart — have probably underperformed to this point, at least relative to their expectations and previous track records.

The three forwards (Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier) are the most intriguing because all three have excellent underlying numbers and shot rates (especially Giroux and Couturier) but have not yet had it translate to the point totals we usually see from them. Giroux and Couturier have been especially dominant when it comes to driving possession, while both have seen increases in their individual shot rates. There is every reason to believe they have more to offer and that their production can — and should — increase.

Hart remains the key to this team, and he always has been. He is the latest goalie in a long line of goalies that was supposed to offer a real long-term solution to a consistently cursed position, and after an outstanding rookie season expectations were sky-high for him entering this year. But he did not get off to a great start (an .864 save percentage in October), and that more than anything contributed to the Flyers’ early losing. Since the calendar has rolled over to November, however, he has started to play like the goalie the Flyers hoped he could be. He has a chance to be a franchise-shifting player simply because of the position he plays and the importance it carries.

No one would blame you if you are still skeptical of this team.

The offseason moves were, in a word, strange, and the organization as a whole has settled into a state of consistent mediocrity over the better part of the past decade. They have also been burned by a revolving door of goalies that were supposed to solidify the position only to fail spectacularly in their own special ways.

But there is at least some kind of hope that this team might be able to be something decent this season based on what we have seen from them so far. If they can keep controlling play the way have over the first month-and-a-half, combined with Hart getting himself comfortable in net, there might be something to actually build on here.

Coverage of the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Flyers and Capitals begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.