Jake Virtanen has avoided taking his case for a raise to arbitration and has instead agreed to a two-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
The 24-year-old winger from Abbotsford’s new contract will pay him $2.55 million per season.
“Jake has continued to make progress on his two-way game and remains a contributor offensively, using his speed and size to generate chances,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said in a statement. “We look forward to him taking additional steps in his growth this year to help our team be successful.”
Virtanen tallied 18 goals and 18 assists in 69 games last season, the best season of his career.
Speaking with reporters Thursday via Zoom, Virtanen said he knows Benning and head coach Travis Green have big expectations for him going into the 2020-21 season, especially given that Benning criticized his performance in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Obviously saw those; when your GM says that about you, you go back home and think about it a lot,” he said. “That was my first playoff experience. Not normal circumstances with the bubble. At least I have that experience now and know what to expect in playoffs.”
“Greener knows me pretty well, been playing for him for a long time. Whatever role he has me in I’ll be ready to go,” he added, noting this is now his sixth season in the NHL. “I want to be a responsible guy.”
With the departure of Tyler Toffoli to the Montreal Canadiens, there appears to be an opportunity for Virtanen to play on one of the Canucks’ top two lines.
“Obviously, I would love to play in the top six,” he said. “I want to prove to my teammates that I can play up there, be consistent every night.”
He even suggested he’d like a chance to kill penalties.
Toffoli wasn’t the only veteran to depart this off-season. Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom both signed with the Calgary Flames while Troy Stecher signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
The decision to move on from Tanev and Markstrom because of their contract demands made big-picture sense for Benning’s efforts to build a cup contender, but the process he took getting there rankled his players somewhat, something Virtanen himself hinted at.
“Losing those guys is a little frustrating. I really loved playing with those guys,” he said. “Calgary and Detroit are getting some really good players and some better people.”
That said, the addition of Nate Schmidt makes the shape of the team’s top four defencemen a lot more dynamic.
Virtanen’s spending this unusual fall off-season at his home in Kelowna. He’s working out every day with teammate Tyler Myers, who also lives in Kelowna, with his young family.
“He treats me like his son,” he said of Myers, with a smile. (Myers’s actual son is three years old.)
Myers played in junior for the Kelowna Rockets so he knows the area well and has been showing Virtanen things to do off-ice, he said.
The duo works out in the morning, then have a smoothie, then head to a local rink to skate with some other NHLers who live in the Kelowna area.
This is Virtanen’s second straight two-year deal, following one that expired this summer and paid him $1.25 million per season. As a restricted free agent, he was eligible to opt for salary arbitration.
His arbitration case had been scheduled to be heard Oct. 28.
With the collection of players currently signed to NHL deals, the Canucks are now above the salary cap. To get below the cap limit, they’ll have to make some roster moves.
Two moves seem likely at this point: waiving Sven Baertschi and re-assigning him to the minors, which would reduce his cap hit by about $1 million, and putting Micheal Ferland on long-term injured reserve, which would take the bulk of his deal out of cap consideration.
That would leave the Canucks with 14 forwards on the NHL roster and with some cap space to sign another defenceman with NHL experience to fill out their defence corps if they didn’t want to go with two rookies among the seven defencemen we’d expect them to carry.
The other move they could make to create cap and roster space would be to buy out Brandon Sutter. Because Virtanen opted for arbitration, the Canucks are allowed a new 24-hour buyout window, which would open two days from now.
That said, it seems unlikely the Canucks opt for a buyout. Ownership has been loath to do so as they aren’t too interested in paying players not to play for them.
The Canucks did buy out Ryan Spooner in 2019; his buyout is counted on this year’s cap. They’ve also bought out Chris Higgins (2016), David Booth (2014), Keith Ballard (2013) and Marc Chouinard (2007) in the past.
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