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Canucks’ Radim Vrbata Finding His Groove Again Playing Alongside Sedins

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Radim Vrbata was lamenting the Vancouver Canucks’ inability to close out games on Wednesday, a day before Vancouver took on the Stars in Dallas. By the time that game had ended, Vancouver had blown a two-goal, third-period lead and lost in overtime — the fourth time the Canucks had blown a third-period lead and lost this season.

“As a team, if we just got a little puck luck in those close games we could close them out and win more,” said Vrbata, whose team finally did that in a 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Friday at Gila River Arena. “We’re playing well and getting chances. We just haven’t finished chances.”

The same was true of Vrbata through the first six games of the season. He went scoreless, pointless and was minus-3 before coach Willie Desjardins decided to reunite him with old linemates Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

“Vrby came to us (in free agency) because he wanted to play with the Sedins,” Desjardins said. “He wasn’t struggling but he wasn’t having as much fun. You always have more fun when you score.”

Vrbata scored 31 goals and recorded a career-high 63 points last season playing primarily alongside the Sedins. The Canucks were 20-4-4 when he scored a goal last season and he was voted team MVP.

The magic is back for that trio. In the four games Vrbata has played with the Sedins this season, he has three goals and five points, including the game-winning assist on Daniel Sedin’s third-period goal in Arizona.

Playing with the Sedins underscores an old opinion of Vrbata: that if he just plays with skill, he can fill up the net, just as he did with the Coyotes in 2011-12 when he netted 35 goals playing alongside Ray Whitney.

“The funny thing is, I feel even better than last year, playing-wise,” Vrbata said. “As a line, we’re creating far more chances than we did last year.”

Maybe it’s the wisdom of years speaking, but Vrbata is taking a relaxed approach to this contract year. It’s not an easy approach for a guy who admits he hates change — a guy who craves stability and familiarity.

Vrbata never wanted to leave Arizona after the 2013-14 season. In some of the more bizarre contract negotiations you’ll ever see, Vrbata offered to stay for essentially no raise from his $3 million-a-year salary if he could have a long-term deal with some security. Per a source, the cost-conscious Coyotes countered by offering escalating salaries of $1 million, $2 million, $3 million and $4 million.

His Vancouver based agent, Rich Evans, eventually convinced his client that the Canucks would be a good fit and their two-year, $10 million offer was a sound financial decision.

Vrbata is 34 and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season again. That normally would cause him unease, especially in a cap-conscious league that is increasingly shifting to youth and speed, but a guy with a 31-goal season on his recent resume can probably afford serenity now.

“I’m probably handling it the best I have in my career,” Vrbata said. “I don’t even think about it. As you get older and see how things work out then you learn not to worry as much.

“It never hurts to have that scoring to show for yourself. It seems like it gets harder and harder to score in this league with so many great players struggling to score like (Jakub) Voracek and (Sidney) Crosby and the three guys (Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler) in Anaheim.”

Vrbata admits he still has a fondness for the Valley and would entertain thoughts of returning on a hometown discount, but he’s not sure the Coyotes have room for him any more in their transition to youth.

“I still keep track of what they’re doing,” he said. “When we played the preseason game against them in Vancouver I said ‘I think they will be a lot better this year than last year.’

“This looks likes a Coyotes team from those successful seasons. They’ve got really good young players like Max (Domi) and Anthony Duclair and Tobi Rieder to give them some skill and the players they brought in play well in the system. They might not be the high-profile names but they are the right players for Tip.”

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