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Canucks sign Vrbata to play with Sedin twins

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Radim Vrbata wasn't the Vancouver Canucks' first choice to cure their scoring woes in free agency. That's OK; the feeling was mutual.

Radim Vrbata
Right Wing - VAN
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 51
SOG: 263 | +/-: -6
After failing to lure Jarome Iginla, who instead went to the Colorado Avalanche on the opening day of NHL free agency Tuesday, the Canucks signed free-agent forward Vrbata to two-year, $10 million contract Wednesday night.

Before agreeing, Vrbata checked back in with the Arizona Coyotes, who were willing to offer a longer contract but not the no-trade clause he wanted. He also turned down a four-year offer from another team.

"I am not going to lie, it wasn't easy," Vrbata said Thursday of leaving Arizona. "We have been there six years and always really liked it. I liked it from a hockey standpoint and we liked it off the ice, so it was a tough decision."

The Canucks made the choice easier by telling Vrbata he will get a chance to play with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin on the top line and on a first power-play unit that struggled last season.

"I talked to [general manager Jim Benning] last night briefly and he was saying they were looking for someone to play with the Sedins and I would be the guy," said Vrbata, who added he knows that spot isn't set or permanent. "I was looking for the right fit, and the way they play and the way they see the game is something that will probably suit my game, so that was very interesting to have that chance."

Vrbata, a durable 33-year-old from the Czech Republic, has 215 goals and 464 points in 792 regular-season games, and has scored at least 20 goals five times in a career that includes time with the Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. His best season was with the Coyotes in 2011-12, when he had 35 goals and 62 points playing with Ray Whitney.

Vrbata said he sees a similar fit with the Sedins and the way the identical twins cycle the puck back and forth.

"They like lots of give-and-gos and they like getting open for each other and that's something I like to do too," Vrbata said. "I'm a big believer in chemistry and synergy, and I feel when you have it with somebody, that helps so much in today's League, where it's so tight."

With 20 goals and 51 points last season, Vrbata should improve a Canucks offense that finished 28th in scoring with the 26th-ranked power play (15.2 percent). As a right shot, he is a natural to replace center Ryan Kesler, who was traded to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2014 NHL Draft last weekend, on the top power-play unit, and Benning said he sees Vrbata playing with the Sedins at even strength.

"I think there's a fit there," Benning said. "I think he's a give-and-go-type player, he is smart, he can jump into the holes, so I think he can fit in with them. I'm not coach. At the end of day, the coach will make that decision, but given his skill set I think he's a good fit with the Sedins."

It's a promise other players have heard before, only to be have longtime Sedin linemate Alexandre Burrows end up back with them. If Vrbata doesn't play on the top line, Benning said he will improve the Canucks' scoring depth and help in the shootout, another area where they have struggled.

Vrbata was 5-for-12 in the shootout last season, nearly matching the goal total of Vancouver, which finished 8-for-50 losing seven of 12. Vrbata's 35 shootout goals are tied for fourth among active players, and he has converted 42.7 percent of his attempts.

"We wanted to add a scorer to our group, so after the dust settled on the first day (of free agency), we were in on some things that didn't work out, so Radim was still available," Benning said. "For us, he plays a 200-foot game first of all, he plays in all three zones, he's got real good hockey sense and hands to finish. And the other thing in the end we looked at is, he's good in the shootouts, and as we were going through the stats last year we didn't do as well in the shootouts."

Benning said the signing of Vrbata and goaltender Ryan Miller earlier in the week satisfied the Canucks' needs in free agency, and the GM now plans to focus on contracts for restricted free agents Zack Kassian, Christopher Tanev and Linden Vey, who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings at the NHL Draft.

"For the most part, we're done," Benning said.

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