When GMJB said he was done bridging his roster for now, it largely means the dreaded 1-2 punch of centers in the West - headlined by the skill that LA, Anaheim, Chicago, St. Louis and San Jose boost down the middle - for Vancouver will be Henrik Sedin and Nick Bonino. Not only will it put added pressure on Bones to mesh well with his new linemates (Kassian and Burrows perhaps?), but a ton of focus will be on the presumptive new third Sedin in Radim Vrbata and his ability to help carry the offense.
First let's hear from Sir Bennington on his target (an aside: JB may need a Toastmasters class or two):
Jeff Angus has a good piece up on the mothership looking at Vrbata's skillset and calls out two vital elements: his goal scoring and durability. On what we can expect with the Sedins and Vrbata:
The Sedins have proven that they can play with just about anybody. They have had the most sustained chemistry with Burrows over the past five years, but Vrbata may make more sense riding shotgun on the top line. He shoots right, which opens up more of the offensive zone for potential one-timer plays. Burrows is able to play both left and right wing, which will allow him to slide down to line two or three alongside both new and familiar faces.
But, at the end of the day, Vrbata will click with the Sedins because of his hockey smarts. The Sedins don’t "need" a certain type of player – they have played with grinders (Trent Klatt), scorers (Anson Carter), speedsters (Jannik Hansen), power forwards (Todd Bertuzzi, Zack Kassian), and even enforcers (Wade Brookbank for a brief moment). But they thrive with smart linemates who can make reads and adjust based on how they play. Vrbata plays a similarly cerebral offensive game – but instead of creating plays, he finishes them.
Glancing over at his ExtraSkater page, there's a few things that stand out, starting with his most frequent linemate being Martin Hanzal, a far cry from riding shotgun to either Hank or Bones. If you put faith in the quality of teammates (QoT TOI %), Vrbata's rank of 30.3% last season would sandwich him in between Hansen (31.2%) and Shawn Matthias (28.9%) on the Vancouver side. Not surprisingly his deployment in the offensive zone (OZS%) ranked in at 30.8%, which again for comparison is roughly Ryan Kesler land (30.7%). The Sedins notoriously ridiculous OZS% under Vigneault took a nearly 6-8% dip under Torts, but assuming Desjardins leans on his top dogs we may see see those percentages flirt with north of 40% again which, for Vrbata, would be a 10% gain.
In short: not only is he getting the best linemates possible, but chances are WD will unleash them more frequently in the offensive zone. Under those constraints last season Vrbata still went 20-31-51. Looking forward there's every reason to be excited at Vrbata's potential as the third Sedin, especially knowing the new coach won't throw the line to the wolves each night.
Vrbata is one of the best and most underrated pure goal scorers in the league. Over the last three years, he’s in the top-15 or so in the league in goals per game.
While his numbers are nice, but don’t necessarily pop off the page, keep in mind that he’s been locked to the hip of center Martin Hanzal who is equivalent to most teams’ defensive 3C. His LWs have been a revolving door of mediocrity aside from his season and a half with Ray Whitney. In his full season with Whitney, he scored 35 goals and 62 points. He gets his teammates involved too, this is not a Jeff Carter circa 2012-13 type of player. If he plays on Vancouver’s top line, that will be by far the most talented players he’s ever played with.
Vrbata is good on the PP as well, a lock for double-digit PPGs. He has played significant PK minutes in the past, but not so much the last two seasons. He’s also phenomenal in the shootout (get used to forehand-backhand-top shelf).
In short, Vrbata is a goal-scoring RW that can pass, play above average defense and can help on both special teams units. He is a quiet, but respectful guy to reporters in the locker room, but can be quite funny when he gets to know you. Great addition to any team — not even a hint of a troublemaker. I imagine he will be a 30-30-60 guy next season at least.
PROS: Proven goal scorer. Great on PP and SO, can help on PK. Responsible defensively. Good locker room guy. Doesn’t take too many penalties. Good possession player who is used to playing against tough competition.
CONS: He will go cold for stretches that seem like an eternity. During that time, most fans will complain that they are wasting $5M on a forward who "disappears." Doubt he will ever be a 40-goal guy, but mid-30s are attainable if he plays with the Sedins.
I think Jaime's comment about 30-30-60 feels about what can be expected, eerily similar to Burrows 26-22-48 in 2011 or 28-24-52 in 2012. Vancouver hasn't had a 40 goal scorer since Daniel and Kesler both notched 41 in 2011. If Vrbata can even sniff that number, it'll do much to help put the disaster of 2014 far out of our memories.
Welcome to the bridge era.