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Vrbata on Return to Coyotes: 'We Never Really Wanted to Leave'

by Jon Lane | NHL.com / Arizona Coyotes
NEW YORK -- Unrestricted free agent right wing Radim Vrbata thought a return to the Arizona Coyotes after spending two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks felt right.


Vrbata, 35, signed a one-year contract Tuesday to start his third stint in Arizona, where he played in 2007-08 and again from 2009-14.

Photo by Getty Images.
Once everything came together, Vrbata realized the time was right to play for a familiar coach, Dave Tippett, in familiar surroundings.

"It all made hockey sense," Vrbata said. "Family wise there's no question about it. We're happy that it got done and the whole family is excited about coming back to Phoenix. We never really wanted to leave."

Vrbata matched a checklist of variables for a player the Coyotes were looking to add to one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Arizona traded for defenseman Alex Goligoski, signed free agent forwards Jamie McGinn and Ryan White, and re-signed leading goal-scorer and captain Shane Doan to a one-year contract to return for his 21st NHL season.

The Coyotes wanted a proven goal scorer -- Vrbata has 259 in 14 NHL seasons, including an NHL career-high 35 in 2011-12 -- a possession driver, and a smart and stable player with a right-handed shot.

"When I got hired here we talked about blueprints that (Tippett) and I had gone through, and done a lot of work and planning, and strategizing tactically how the best way to firm our roster would be," Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said. "He checked a lot of those boxes that we were looking for at that specific spot in the roster. We talked to him throughout the off-season and it was the right time to make a deal, and we're happy to have Radim. As the off-season wore on it was the right move for us and the right move for him ... If he plays well then it will be more than one year."

Selected in the seventh round (No. 212) by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1999 NHL Draft, Vrbata has 137 goals and 288 points in 428 regular-season games with the Coyotes, and has played for the Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Canucks. He signed a two-year contract with the Canucks on July 2, 2014 for a chance to play with forwards Daniel Sedin a
Photo by Norm Hall.
nd Henrik Sedin. In his first season with Vancouver, Vrbata had an NHL career-high 63 points in 79 games, but his playing time with the Sedins was reduced last season and his production fell to 13 goals and 27 points in 63 games.

"The first year I think that was a season that I could hope for," Vrbata said. "Everything went the way I hoped it would and there was lots of success. The second season, obviously, was the total opposite, but that's the way it goes sometimes. You have ups and downs, and you have to live through both, don't get too high when everything is going well for you and on the other hand don't get too down when things are not going well.

"It was obviously disappointing. But I know what kind of player I am. Coming to Phoenix now, to a situation where (Tippett) knows me and I know (Tippett), and he knows how to use me, so look for me to be effective. I'm looking forward to it."

Prior to signing the contract, Vrbata said he spoke with Tippett, who told him he could be reunited with center Martin Hanzal.

"He knows how to use and deploy him and put him in the optimal situation to produce," Chayka said. "I see him playing with smart, skilled players, in which we have quite a few, especially the young variety, and he can be a stabilizing factor on those lines. I know (Tippett is) excited to have him in the lineup. It's a better tool for him to use as he sees fit trying to get the most out of our group, and I know he will."
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