Radim Vrbata had a big game for the Canucks last night. The Czech sniper netted a hat trick, which had to come as a relief.
Vrbata has had a mostly frustrating season thus far. After scoring 31 times and having one of the best seasons of his career in 2014-15, goals have been harder to come by this year.
Until last night.
Vrbata scored three times, increasing his goal total by 50% in one night. He now sits with 9 goals and 15 points (9-6-15) in 27 games. He’s back on pace to score 27 goals this season, which is about what we should expect from him.
Now, while it’s true that Vrbata took advantage of a sub-par Sabres team that were playing their second game in two nights with their third-string goalie between the pipes, he was overdue for some good luck.
As stats master Thomas Drance outlined last month, Vrbata fell victim to some extraordinary bad luck. He had been generating a tonne of shots, but was converting on an unusually low number of them, including a lot of goal posts. It’s about time he caught a break.
The win over the Sabres stopped a 5-game losing streak. The Canucks will likely need Vrbata to keep up a 25-30 goal pace if they want make the playoffs this year.
The #Canucks are 29th in winning percentage and 20th overall in the league. But are tied for SECOND in the Pacific. Seriously.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 8, 2015
Despite their struggles this season, Vancouver is tied for second in the Pacific Division, trailing only the Los Angeles Kings. If the playoffs started today, they would have home ice advantage.
Just like last season.
And that’s precisely why the Canucks need to look at offloading Vrbata. The Canucks might make the playoffs with him, but then what? The goal for the organization ought to be to build towards success in 2-3 years, after their young players become difference makers, and before the Sedins retire.
At 34-years-old, he is still an effective top-six winger, but likely doesn’t have many good years left. He’ll turn 35 this summer. Last season, just six players aged 35 and older scored more than 20 goals: Jarome Iginla (29), Pavel Datsyuk (26), Marian Hossa (22), Alex Tanguay (22), Martin St. Louis (21), and Eric Cole (21).
Essentially, Vrbata is a diminishing asset that the Canucks have very little time to cash in on. He is in the last year of his contract that carries a team-friendly $5 million cap hit and a modified no-trade clause.
A player of Vrbata’s ilk could fetch a high return from a contender at the trade deadline, perhaps even a late-first round pick. That’s an asset that could help in 2-3 years, either as a developed player, or as trade bait.
Vrbata is absolutely a player the Canucks can use today, it’s tomorrow that I’m concerned about.