We’ve recently heard rumours that Radim Vrbata is going to sign in Europe, unable to land an NHL deal for the upcoming season. It has been an unbelievably swift decline for Vrbata, who within two seasons has gone from 31 goals on the top line with the Sedins to potentially out of the league entirely.
This led me to a question: exactly how unique is this? In other words, how many other players have gone from a 30-goal season to not being able to land a job in the league within two years?
For the purposes of this investigation, I’m going to set some parameters. I’ll only be looking at the last 25 seasons, so 1991-92 to the present. I’m also going to avoid listing players who clearly retired due to injuries or age. I’m using http://www.hockey-reference.com for my research.
Nobody, although Vladimir Ruzicka comes close. He scored 39 goals this season and was gone within three years.
Dmitri Kvartalnov- Our first hit! Kvartalnov, who I have never heard of, scored 30 goals for the Bruins this season, at age 26, 12 goals the next year, and returned to Europe forever thereafter. It appears he went straight back to Russia after having mixed success with the Bruins the following year and spending some time in the AHL. Hard to believe another team wouldn’t have taken a crack at him if he were willing to stay.
None, but Bob Kudelski comes close, going from 40 goals this year to out of the league within three.
1994-95 Season-Inconclusive data, lockout
Zdeno Ciger- Ciger had a weird career, scoring 31 goals for Edmonton this season and then promptly returned to Slovakia. He briefly returned to the NHL in 2001-02. One has to think this was Ciger’s choice rather than a lack of league interest in him.
Nobody here, either! As goal-scoring starts to decline, it seems like anyone who manages to get 30 goals isn’t going anywhere.
The search continues!
Nobody! This is getting boring. Only a decade and a bit to go!
Nothing to see here.
Nope! Looks like the NHL foresaw my boredom and gave me a pass on the next season. 😦
2004-05 Season- Inconclusive data, lockout
Tons of 30 goal scorers in the post-lockout scoring rush!
Anson Carter- Finally, another hit! And oddly enough, it’s a player who found himself in a very similar situation to Vrbata, our old friend Dancin’ Anson Carter. After 33 goals with the Twins, he split a year between Columbus and Carolina and then headed to Europe for a year.
Back to drawing blanks. Nobody here.
You guessed it! Nothing here.
Nope, just Chuck Testa.
Nobody in this season, either, but cool to see Alex Burrows in the top-ten goal scorers!
Nobody here either, but since I’m using these spaces for Canucks content now, how does Corey Perry win the Hart over Daniel Sedin when Sedin has a six-point lead? Robbery!
Ilya Kovalchuk- I think we all know the deal here. Kovalchuk definitely didn’t leave the league due to a lack of interest in him, as seems to be Vrbata’s fate.
2012-13 Season- Inconclusive data, lockout
Nobody here! One more to go!
Radim Vrbata- The man who sent me on this wild goose chase.
Jiri Hudler?- Right now Hudler doesn’t have an NHL contract, but I believe he could have one if he so chose. However, he did score 31 goals this season and may find himself outside of the NHL as of 2016.
Conclusions: With two cases where the player clearly chose to go back to Europe of their own accord (Ciger and Kovalchuk), and another where I think that was the major reason (Kvartalnov), the only player other than Radim Vrbata to score 30 goals and then have to exit the league due to lack of interest within two years is Anson Carter. In a bizarre coincidence, both players were accused of inflated egos after a great season with the Sedin twins, before leaving the NHL after rough follow-up campaigns. What does this mean? Absolutely nothing, other than further evidence that Vrbata’s downfall is nearly unprecedented. (and that Hudler’s downfall has also been pretty swift).