Vrbata Sparks the Sedins: Five Reasons for First Line Optimism


Radim Vrbata has taken little time in providing a much needed spark for the Sedins this season. Their line currently boasts 11 points, and Vrbata has provided two goals and an assist. I must admit I am surprised how quickly this line has gelled, considering how hard the Canucks have struggled in the past to provide a suitable line mate for the Sedins (Taylor Pyatt, anyone?). If last season had not been one long string of bad luck for Alex Burrows, perhaps the Canucks would not have made a move for Vrbata. But so far it is paying off. His presence alongside what seems like a rejuvenated set of twins has worked wonders for the Canucks so far. This got me thinking, what is making such a difference? Is it just Vrbata, or are there other factors? Can their success continue? This sounds like a job for a list! Here’s some reasons to be optimistic about the Canucks first line this year.

1. The Twins are Rejuvenated

As I mentioned above, Daniel and Henrik look like new players on the ice. This can probably be credited to a few factors. First, Tortorella notoriously overused them. And his offensive system, which required a dump and chase approach, worked against their usual possession style. Second, Henrik got hurt, breaking his iron man streak of 679 games played. Third, Burrows had his worst season ever. In 2011 he famously “slayed the dragon.” I’m pretty sure a dragon bit him back in 2013-14. He needs to carry some sort of dragon-proof rock in his pocket (I carry one all the time, and to this day I’ve never seen a dragon). His injuries, and struggles when he returned from them, caused some serious upheaval on the first line as several players were tried with the Sedins. Between the extra minutes, Henrik’s injuries, and cycling line mates due to Burrows’ injuries, the Sedins had a very sub-par season.

Besides the risk of injuries, it seems likely that the Sedins are bound for a better season. The Canucks are playing a faster system so far, one that emphasizes their skills in possession. The coaching change has produced what seems to be a lighter mood in the locker room. And the presence of a consistent linemate should work wonders for them over the length of the season.

2. Radim Vrbata is Right Handed

A right handed shot playing with the Sedins has always been the dream, ever since Anson Carter had his breakout season with them 2005-06. Their cycling work along the right side boards is perfectly suited for a right handed trigger man in the slot. But after several failed experiments, AV had settled on Burrows. He really was a good fit: he’s gritty, hard working, and has a great touch in front of the net. But Vrbata has one thing he lacks: Right-handedness. To be fair, Burrows has one thing Vrbata lacks: vowels in his last name.

3. Radim Vrbata Works Hard

This is no knock on Alex Burrows, mind you, but Radim Vrbata’s work ethic is noticeable. He has brought a level of intensity to this line and the team that seemed to be lacking last year. I like what Anthony Furlan of Along the Boards has to say:

"Radim Vrbata also has done something that I was quietly anticipating: He brought the work ethic he showed in Phoenix with him to Vancouver.There is no doubt that the Arizona (previously Phoenix) Coyotes are one of the hardest working teams in the NHL and have been for years. Shane Doan is one of the most underrated players and among the best captains in the league because of the heart and will he plays with. When you play with a guy like that — as Vrbata did — you develop one hell of a work ethic.It’s easy to see in Vrbata’s game. Everything is hard. His passes, his shots and most of all his hits. He finishes his checks every time he gets a chance."

It’s not hard to see the kind of attitude Vrbata has brought to the team. This can only help the Sedins get back to being elite scorers in this league.

4. Small Sample Sizes are Great!

The reality is that we’re only dealing with two games. Not only that, but two games against the Flames and Oilers. They’re not exactly known for their defensive prowess. Still, it’s great to see such skill, intensity, and results from this line. This goal against the Oilers is a classic example of the Sedins at their best. They get the puck in the zone, control it down low, and turn a harmless looking shot into a very important first period goal:

5. Radim Vrbata has Murder in his Eyes

Seriously, have you seen this guy’s eyes? He has a crazy intense stare! Not convinced? Go ahead and do a Google image search for “Radim Vrbata.” Sure he smiles once in a while, but those steely eyes spell death for any who oppose him. Is his cold, icy stare helping the Sedins play better by intimidating his opponents? I say yes. Perhaps this type of thing is not verifiable by any kind of stat, but one look at the man and I think you’ll agree that most opponents would prefer not to look at him directly in the eyes. They end up looking sheepishly at their skates while he blows past them. I think this alone will help the Sedins get back to the 80 point plateau.

I think that whether or not Vrbata joined the Sedins this year, they would have had a better season than last year. So many things went wrong last year. As we like to say around these parts, the Canucks really “Tortorella’d” that season. Mostly because they were coached by John Tortorella.

However Radim Vrbata is a uniquely great fit for the Sedins. His intensity, skill, and right-handedness make him a deadly addition to an already deadly duo. If he can stay healthy he’ll be a major factor in turning the Canucks’ first line back into an elite scoring threat.