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Greg Wyshynski

Vrbata confirms status as one of hockey's all-time free agent busts

Greg Wyshynski
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Winger Radim Vrbata has scored three goals in 18 games after signing a three-year, $9 million free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning over the summer. He's played himself off any semblance of an offensive line and his inept performance had landed him on the healthy scratch list under both coaches Barry Melrose and Rick Tocchet.

He's already a bust of the highest order, yet Vrbata found a way to take his embarrassment from humbling to epic -- by actually requesting that the Lightning waive him so he could finish playing this season in the Czech Republic.

From Bob McKenzie of TSN:

The Lightning will apparently not be responsible for paying him for the balance of this season but the contract will remain in force for the second and third years should he choose to return to the NHL.

"Radim is a great guy and he came into our office on Sunday morning and just told us his confidence is low and he would like to head home to the Czech Republic to finish the season," Lightning owner Oren Koules told TSN. "He just wants to take the rest of the year off (from the NHL) and try to get his game back over there. If he wants to come back next season, great. That's his call. This is all very amicable. He's a great guy who's really struggling right now."

"He's a great guy who's really struggling right now" ... boy, might as well make that a rubber stamp in the Tampa front office, huh?

Damien Cristodero offered some interesting personal information about Vrbata on Lightning Strikes:

Vrbata was unhappy as well and on Sunday spoke to management about it. With wife Petra five months pregnant with their first child, he asked if he could be moved to a team in his native Czech Republic. The Lightning's contract with Vrbata stipulates the Lightning can make such a move and, the best part for Tampa Bay, the team would get both the salary and cap relief.

But this only applies to the first year of the three-year deal. Tampa Bay is still responsible for the second and third years of the contract. That means either Vrbata returns or the Lightning works a deal in the interim. Or perhaps Vrbata is claimed off waivers, not likely given his production and contract, but possible.

Your heart goes out to the guy if the whole family angle weighed upon him. Do the math, and it's possible that she wasn't preggers when he left the Phoenix Coyotes to sign with the Lightning. That's a whole different level of stress on top of playing poorly for a last-place team that's also the laughingstock of the League.

That said, he's now a bust of titanic proportions because of this decision. We were wary of Vrbata back in the summer, because his numbers so clearly pointed to a player that was singing for his free agent supper. His failure to match the expectations of his raise were virtually assured this season; but even we didn't expect six points in 18 games and a spot in the press box.

Of course, his departure for the homeland is a blessing for the Lightning. Not only does this flop-on-skates stop taking up roster room for the remainder of the season, but his salary won't count towards the cap.

This opens things up a bit for GM Brian Lawton and management, virtually assuring the Bolts can have the chance to practice their particular brand of transactional whimsy as the season progresses; whether that's breaking the bank for Mats Sundin to play with Gary Roberts or trading for another 23 defensemen before season's end.

We'd say this was a cunning, intentional move by the Lightning to convince Vrbata to take his cap space and go home. But the Bolts front office has done nothing to convince us that they're capable of such Lamorielloian feats of creative cap management. Even if they've shown his proclivity for rapid coach removal.

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