Remember this when you see Radim Vrbata in a Vancouver Canucks jersey next season: It didn’t have to be this way.
The Coyotes lost another key piece of their 2012 Western Conference Finals team when Vrbata, an unrestricted free agent and the team’s purest goal scorer, signed a two-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. It will pay him $4 million in base salary each season, with $1 million in possible bonuses each year and a limited no-trade clause.
Vrbata said his agent, Rich Evans, called him in the Czech Republic to deliver the news between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
"Twenty-four hours earlier, in my mind, there wasn’t even a remote possibility of keeping him, but the deal he was prepared to cut with us was too good to pass up," said Maloney, who already was near his spending limit after trading for center Sam Gagner and wing B.J. Crombeen last weekend, then signing free-agent goalie Devan Dubnyk and free-agent center Joe Vitale. "To Radim’s credit, he really tried to make it work for us with a number that was substantially less than he’s getting."
Vrbata and his wife, Petra, just had their second son (Oliver) on April 30, so there was plenty of thought given to remaining in Phoenix. They weren’t keen on the idea of uprooting the family at such a delicate time. The couple loves living in the Valley, and Vrbata knows he has enjoyed his greatest success as a pro in Arizona, so he was actually considering taking less money per season than he made in his previous three-year, $9 million deal with the Coyotes.
"I think some people will think I’m crazy, for sure," he texted. "But the way I see it, it is still lots of money that I never thought I’d make in my life. I want to be in a situation where I will be happy, even with less money."
Vrbata was willing to "move some money around" on a four-year deal to get the amount where he needed it to be. So what made the deal fall apart?
The Vancouver deal was a major factor, but if he wasn’t going to get close to his market value in dollars in Arizona, Vrbata wanted a no-movement clause like captain Shane Doan got in a four-year deal, and Maloney almost never goes there. Aside from Doan, goalie Mike Smith has a no-move clause through 2015-16 and a no-trade clause from 2016-17 to 2018-19. Mike Ribeiro wouldn’t wave his no-trade clause, which ultimately forced the Coyotes to buy him out.
Maloney was willing to give Vrbata a modified clause, but not the whole enchilada.
"Once you open the door for one person, then everyone from there on in is looking for it," Maloney said.
Vrbata’s camp felt that was a reasonable expectation given the other concessions he had made, but on Wednesday morning, Evans said talks started heating up with the Canucks. Vrbata liked the money, the term and the opportunity so it was time to move on.
"Radim is a really good guy and a loyal guy and he’s not a guy who welcomes change with open arms," Evans said. "But we think it has all worked out for the best. We’re really excited about the opportunity for him to play big minutes on a team that needs some offense."
In 792 NHL games, Vrbata has 215 goals and 464 points. In his last five seasons in Phoenix — including the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season — he had 110 goals and 232 points in 352 games.
Vrbata played two separate stints for the Coyotes. He had 27 goals and 56 points in 2007-08, then signed a three-year, free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. It proved to be a bad situation with a team that finished with the NHL’s second-worst record, and Vrbata ended up finishing the season playing in the Czech Republic.
In the 2009 offseason, he was traded back to the Coyotes and enjoyed a renaissance. In 2011-12, with playmaking left wing Ray Whitney on his line, he posted his best season with 35 goals and 62 points.
"I will always think of my time with the Coyotes as the best years in my career with hopefully more coming up with Vancouver now. And as I already said, I will always remember all the people and also the fans who I would like to thank for their support. The quality of all those people made this decision very hard."