GLENDALE - Forward Radim Vrbata knew his NHL career wasn't over after a mediocre 2015-16 season with the Vancouver Canucks.
He proved that this season while playing for the Coyotes, for the third time. Vrbata, 35, led Arizona in goals (20), assists (35) and points (55), and was voted the team's Most Valuable Player by media members who regularly cover the team.
"It was a good season for me," Vrbata said in his final interview before leaving for the off-season. "I didn't set any goals for myself before the season, I was just happy to be coming back here. I knew I'd be put in a good situation with (Head Coach Dave Tippett). He knows how to use me. And playing with Marty (Hanzal) before he got traded helped."
Vrbata's season featured a significant milestone; he played his 1,000th NHL game on March 9 vs. Ottawa.
"Usually I try to downplay my success, but this is something that I'm proud of," said Vrbata, who became just the 310th player to skate in 1,000 NHL games. "All the stuff with the 1,000th game, sometimes it all got a little too crazy for me with the attention that I got. But I'm grateful that I was able to play 1,000 games and I was happy to get it done here with the Coyotes and play that game in front of Coyotes fans."
Other highlights for Vrbata included being selected by Tippett to replace Hanzal as an alternate captain after Hanzal was traded, and being nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"I knew I still had it in me, and I knew that if I'd be in the right situation it would show," Vrbata said when asked about how he persevered after his disappointing season in Vancouver. "... All athletes are proud individuals and you want to prove everybody wrong when you're getting older and everybody's kind of writing you off."
Vrbata, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, wants to return to the NHL for a 16th season. And if he has it his way, he'll be back with the Coyotes.
"My mind-set for next year is if there's interest here, I think 99 percent I'll be back," Vrbata said. "If there's no interest, then we'll see what's out there and see what we want to do as a family. Hopefully, I'll be back here … You want to be where you feel good and where the family feels good."
General Manager John Chayka said the Coyotes will need veteran players next season to help the many young players on the roster continue to grow.
"He's our leading scorer, good attitude, good person, good with the young guys," Chayka said. "There's nothing negative whatsoever to say about him. It's just that same question of how do we get better and is he a part of getting better? There's a good chance that that could be the case."
Video: Radim Vrbata discusses 2016-17 season, team's future