Coyotes, Vrbata talking contract extension

Coyotes talking extension with winger Vrbata, who GM Maloney says has outplayed current deal.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said Saturday that the team has had preliminary conversations about a contact extension for forward Radim Vrbata, who is entering the final year of a three-year $9 million deal.

That is significant news in its own right, although nothing is imminent or serious at the moment. But check out what Maloney said about the possibility of extending Vrbata.

"He’s been a very good player for us and we’ve had great value for what we’re paying him,” Maloney said. “I feel like we’re always fair in our contracts -- my idea of fair and other camps' idea may be different -- but when you look at his numbers, he’s probably earned more.”

Maloney has a remarkable penchant for candor, but this was groundbreaking stuff even for him. When is the last time you heard a GM admit he’s not paying a guy enough as he enters a contract negotiation? 

The thing is, Maloney is right. When you look at Vrbata’s stats the past four seasons -- 90 goals and 181 points in 272 games -- it’s clear that he’s provided skill and scoring on a team starved for such production. But when you remember what he did playing on a line with Ray Whitney two seasons ago (35 goals) when the Coyotes went to the Western Conference Final, you realize just how much he can add if the franchise just puts some skill alongside him.

“He adds a skill level that’s so hard to find out there, and he’s a really good teammate,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He just fits well with us.”

Check out this chart of point-producers over the past two seasons. Look at the company Vrbata (No. 62) is keeping and then look up comparable players' contracts, or examine the players with similar cap numbers to Vrbata's. Get the picture?

It’s a remarkable feat for a guy chosen 212th overall in the 1999 NHL Draft. It’s why Whitney said last season that Vrbata’s contract is well below market price, and it’s why Maloney says Vrbata has likely earned a bigger payday.

“That’s a good thing, I guess,” Vrbata said, sheepishly. “You always want to be paid what is fair.”

“The question is, how much more -- what’s fair?” Maloney added.

The Coyotes just threw an awful lot of money into retaining Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker (not to mention Maloney and Tippett) while acquiring center Mike Ribeiro. Ownership stability is one thing, but the Coyotes are probably never going to be a free-spending team. They have to stay within a budget.

Make no mistake: Vrbata knows his market value and wants a good deal. But he also tested the waters with other teams and found them to be bad fits, including stops in Carolina, Chicago and a disastrous 2008-09 season in Tampa Bay, where multiple circumstances led him to ask the Lightning for a release and return home to the Czech Republic.

“It’s not always about the money,” Vrbata said. “You want to be paid fair, but sometimes it’s better to take less and be in a good situation. I’m living proof of that when you look at what happened to me in Tampa.

“Phoenix is the place where I’ve had the most success, where we like it as a family and where I like it as a hockey player. All the people around the team, Tip, Don, Shane (Doan) and the players, they make it a great situation for me. I wanted to be here even when the ownership situation was in limbo. With this new ownership group in place, it makes it even more appealing.”

In a perfect world, Vrbata would like to have an extension completed before the season begins so that it doesn’t become a distraction, but he understands that might not happen.

Even so, the additions of Ribeiro and top pick Max Domi have him excited about possible line combinations and yes, playing alongside a play-maker who will allow him to finish like he did with Whitney and longtime linemate Martin Hanzal.

“I always liked Mike as a player,” he said. “When I went and played junior in Canada, I played against him my first year, and he’s still the same player -- very smart with great skill and a great hockey mind.

“I skated with (Max) last week twice, and I know it was only a scrimmage before a camp, but you can see that he is smart, skilled and thinks the game right.”

Vrbata is fully healed from a broken foot that cost him 14 games last season. And he he has stopped shuddering over the bizarre allergic reaction he had to an antibiotic in the 2012 postseason.

He arrived in the Valley last week and admits he feels kid-like excitement over all the good changes the franchise has undergone in the past four months.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for the last four years,” he said. “I’m ready to start.”