Veteran forward Radim Vrbata has been discussing contract terms with four different teams and hopes to finalize an agreement soon, reports Arizona Sports' Craig Morgan. Vrbata's agent, Rich Evans, offered an update on the winger's situation on Monday.
This makes me wonder whether the Hawks could be one of those suitors. GM Stan Bowman has said he's happy with the current roster and Evans declined to list any teams he's talking with, but Vrbata could be an intriguing win-now addition for Chicago. He's just one season removed from racking up 31 goals and 62 points in a Canucks uniform and is running out of leverage this late in the offseason.
Morgan reports that "it is believed that the Coyotes have had at least some level of discussion about bringing the Czech wing back," so they seem like the favorite right now. Still, Chicago might be an intriguing wild card in this situation. The Hawks can't offer as much money as the Coyotes, but could provide Vrbata an opportunity at a major role on a likely Stanley Cup contender.
The 2015-16 season didn't go nearly as well for Vrbata, which is the only reason there's any chance that Chicago could afford him. In 63 games, the 35-year-old recorded 13 goals and 14 assists, his worst offensive performance in a full season since 2003-04. Coming off that kind of season at his age, he's commanded interest but wasn't considered one of the best options available.
It's unclear whether the Hawks are actually one of the suitors, and there's a decent chance they're not, but here's why the move might (or might not) make sense.
Why Vrbata makes sense
He's a right winger, so he's not the 1LW replacement for Brandon Saad that Chicago has spent a year looking for, but Vrbata would immediately give the team another scoring option. While last season was a disappointment, he still put up decent possession numbers and racked up tons of shots on goal. The biggest difference between Vrbata's goal-scoring in 2014-15 and 2015-16 was his shooting percentage, which dropped from 11.6 percent to 6.5 percent. When he was on the ice last season, Vancouver had a PDO of 94.8.
So there's likely some regression coming here, unless his game takes a real dip as he ages, and a good chance at 20 goals. Vrbata's addition could potentially allow for Marian Hossa to be moved down the lineup into a more defensive-minded role, or Vrbata could simply be wielded as another scoring option for Joel Quenneville to insert elsewhere into the lineup. At the price Chicago could offer -- something between $1-2 million on a short-term deal -- it could be worth the risk.
Why Vrbata doesn't make sense
Well, for one thing, he might not be in the Hawks' price range. This whole speculative exercise falls apart if Vrbata is commanding millions in average annual value. He's made $10 million over the past two years, so there's a good chance that he simply won't be willing to take that kind of paycut. While we saw lightning strike once this summer with Brian Campbell's discounted deal, it's probably unlikely that the Hawks will be able to convince Vrbata of the same.
And there's a clear risk financially, too. The Hawks seem comfortable with their younger roster right now partially because it allows them to enter next season with over $1 million in cap space. While that might seem like a waste of limited resources for the Hawks, you have to imagine that this year's cap overage is sticking out in Bowman's mind. With big bonuses in the deals for Campbell, Artemi Panarin and Michal Kempny, the Hawks might be aiming to leave some 2016-17 cap space aside in order to pay some of those bonuses and take a chunk out of the potential overage.
By signing Vrbata and filling out that cap space, you're making it increasingly likely that a multi-million overage is on the 2017-18 books when Panarin is due for an extension. So the team would need to be pretty sold on Vrbata as an immediate upgrade.
With so many other teams able to offer more money, Vrbata signing with Chicago is unlikely. However, for a win-now team with a need for scoring in the top six, Vrbata is an intriguing fit, and he's reportedly discussing deals with several teams. It would be understandable if one of those teams is the Hawks, even as Bowman maintains his confidence in the group that's presently assembled. The Coyotes seem like the favorite to bring back Vrbata. Still, it would be sensible if the Hawks were at least considering options like this given the possibility of Richard Panik, top line forward.