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The Coyotes contractual conundrum: The losses of Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro

Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata could have helped the Arizona Coyotes right now. Here's why they left the way they did.

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The past and an unpleasant reminder of the present.
The past and an unpleasant reminder of the present.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

31 goals. 53 assists. 84 points.

That is the combined current statline of two former Coyotes, Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro. Two players who could be Coyotes right now, but aren't for different reason.

Radim Vrbata was not re-signed as a free agent this past offseason, despite reports that his first choice was to remain a Coyote. He signed a two year, $10 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks instead and is enjoying a career rebirth. He was an All Star this year and currently has 20 goals and 19 assists in 50 games. Last season, he had 20 goals and 30 assists in 80 games.

Therein lies the rub with the Vrbata deal. His numbers look good this season, but keep in mind he is playing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. That is a huge difference from Martin Hanzal and the random wingers he played with after the departure of Ray Whitney in the desert. Look at this breakdown of his per game stats as an example.

Radim Vrbata per game stats
Year Goals Assists Points Shots
2012-13 PHX .35 .47 .82 3.12
2013-14 PHX .25 .39 .64 3.29
2014-15 VAN .40 .38 .78 3.36

His stats have all increased this season over what they were in his final year in Glendale. The numbers for 2012-13 look good, until you realize he had 12 goals in 34 games. He had one goal in an 11 game stretch that year from February 2nd to March 27th (he missed time due to injury in that stretch also) and went another 12 game stretch with only two goals scored from April 2nd to April 26th. He had a hat trick in the season finale of that season against Anaheim, but if that game is discounted, he scored six goals in the final 25 games of the year. That is only .24 goals per game during the final stretch of the season.

The reports say that the Coyotes and Radim were interested in a long term, 4 year deal that would be signed at a considerable discount to an open market based on how much he loved playing for coach Tippett and the teammates he had. The sticking point became the movement clause. Vrbata was interested in a guarantee that he would be in Arizona for the length of the contract and the Coyotes were only willing to offer a limited no trade clause. Given the reduced production he offered the team in his final two years, it was a wise decision for the Coyotes to not handcuff themselves to Vrbata for the length of the deal.

Which brings things around to Mike Ribeiro. The Coyotes entered the opening day of the 2013 free agency period by making the biggest splash possible, signing the top available free agent center to a four year, $22 million deal. It was an overpay, as most free agency deals are. It wasn't a terribly egregious deal given the player's past performance like some other contracts from that offseason (cough, David Clarkson, cough). In fact, I was a proponent of the deal at the time.

Ribeiro would go on to produce the worst full season of his NHL career. The numbers don't lie. He scored 16 goals, which is not a terrible number for a pass first center. But he only added 31 assists for a total of 47 points. For an idea of how horrible that was, he had 36 assists in the lockout shortened 48 game season in 2012. Part of the problem for Ribeiro was the quality of his teammates, as he spent much of the year with players like David Moss, Rob Klinkhammer, Kyle Chipchura and Tim Kennedy. Not exactly Alexander Ovechkin, Jaime Benn, Loui Eriksson and Brendan Morrow, linemates from his previous seasons.

Another part of the problem wasn't something that could be seen on ice or statistically. And that is what led Coyote general manager Don Maloney to buy out the remaining three years of Riberio's contract. No matter what demons were chasing Ribeiro (GMDM didn't elaborate and rumors of rampant tardiness and missed buses only lead to more questions), they were obviously enough for the Coyotes to want to rid themselves of the player. To the extent that they were willing to pay $1.944 million a year until 2020 for him to not play for the team.

The Nashville Predators took a chance on the troubled center and it's paid off for them. He has 11 goals and 34 assists (already more than he had for the Coyotes) for 45 points for the Central Division leading Preds while forging amazing chemistry with Filip Forsberg, one of the leading candidates for the Calder Trophy.

Nashville gave him a one year contract for $1.050 million. Combined with the $1.944 million he's making from Arizona in 2015, his total contract is $2.994 million. Far from the $5.5 million average annual contract he had with the Coyotes. He gave the Yotes 8.55 points for every one million dollars they paid him in 2014. He's giving Nashville 15.03 points for every million. While still being paid by Arizona. Sometime free agency is a cruel mistress.

But the Ribeiro mess helped create the Vrbata absence. The Coyotes are on the hook for almost $2 million per year for the next six years for someone who won't be playing for them. They are limited in their ability to spend now anyway and have to pay a guy to not be on the team.

A long term deal for an aging veteran blew up in the face of GMDM tremendously, which may have made him gun-shy to go to terms with Radim. There is no doubt that Vrbata would be a huge upgrade to the current wings the Coyotes have on the NHL roster, especially with Mikkel Boedker on the IR for the year. But would the success of 2015 still be worth it in 2017 and 2018 when Vrbata would be 35-36 years old? Probably not.

So the Coyotes suffer in 2015. All for 31 goals, 53 assists and 84 points.