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Virtanen Trade Collapse, a Microcosm of Canucks Frustrating Indecision

Brayden Fengler / March 1, 2021  

For a brief moment over the past few days, it was looking like Jake Virtanen’s time with the Vancouver Canucks was nearing its end. A deal that has reportedly long been on and off the back burner between the Canucks and the Anaheim Ducks, picked up some short-lived steam over the weekend. This according to multiple sources, including The Athletics’ Thomas Drance. This deal was reported to be a one-for-one, Jake Virtanen in exchange for 25-year-old Duck’s forward Danton Heinen.

Strike While the Iron Is Hot

Despite the Canucks 0-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in their last game, Virtanen had himself an excellent showcase night. He of course gave his fair share of reasons why he shouldn’t be in the lineup. Yet still, Jake was in the mix on a few of the big chances that the Canucks generated that game. While it’s unlikely that it was his performance in the previous game that re-sparked the trade discussions, it no doubt only helped the Canucks talk up his trade value.

However, what seems like only hours after word of the potential trade hit the news cycle, it sounds like the deal is a moot point. The big hang-up being on the Canucks side, according to Athletic staff writer Eric Stephens, with Canucks’ ownership refusing to hold onto $800k in salary. The retained salary would be in order to make the numbers make sense for Anaheim, as Virtanen’s back-loaded contract makes his price in the 2021-22 season a tough sell.

Money Money Money

To some degree, it’s understandable that a deal with retained salary could be a non-starter in this pandemic season. However, this lack of financial flexibility from ownership has been a throughline in almost every on and off-ice story for the Canucks since the playoffs. Times are tough for all business owners, but as the saying goes, sometimes “you have to spend money to make money”. If the Canucks won’t spend money on existing players in free agency, they won’t spend it on their coach in his contract year, and they won’t spend it to acquire new players? When will they spend it? At this rate, it’s beginning to look like a good chunk of the fan base will have lost interest in this team, by the time Mr. Aquilini opens his wallet.

The crowning example of the Canucks not spending money when they really should be, is the Travis Green situation. Green still sits as a lame-duck coach 24 games into his contract season. As a result of this, he’s doing everything he can to ice the best team each night. He’s doing this at a point in the season when maybe that’s not what’s best for the club anymore. The Canucks are a young team with unproven talent sitting in the press box, and playing in Utica. If Travis Green could be given the confidence that he will be keeping his job going into next season, maybe he would feel more inclined to get some NHL minutes under the young players’ belts.

Instead of playing younger players, Green is understandably building a resume for himself by doing everything he can to win now. If he had assurance from management and ownership, in the form of a contract instead of just a tweet, perhaps we would see things like Thatcher Demko getting more of the starts. It would also be great for Green to let guys that have only touched the ice briefly this season, play some games with larger minutes. Player’s like Brogan Rafferty, and Jayce Hawryluk who is only now seeing a little NHL playing time.

Actions Speak Louder Than Tweets

We’ve cited Aquilini’s tweet in almost every article that we’ve written since he made it. At the time, despite it sounding like a lot of talk and not a lot of action, his confidence in the team still sounded promising. Yet, here we are, two weeks, and many losses later, and it’s clear that the owners’ empty words of confidence aren’t cutting it for many Canucks fans. Instead, they want action.

Aquilini doesn’t mention Virtanen in his tweet thread, when he talks about Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Nils Hoglander being important young pieces of the Canucks’ future. Yet Jake is still here and Aquilini refuses to concede any capital to trade him. The Canucks owner says he has faith in the coach, but Green still remains without a contract. Aquilini has done nothing to show that he means what he says.

Aquilini’s inaction continues to waste time for the Canucks. The team could either be building their roaster for this season, or working on their younger players for the next. Instead, they’re doing neither, as they head into a postseason where they need to sign Demko, as well as both their star centre in Pettersson and star defencemen in Hughes. It makes you wonder what kind of message this season is sending to these three players, which will hopefully by making up the future of this franchise.

What the Canucks DON’T Have to Look Forward to

The Canucks have a nightmare of a schedule coming up. They play the Winnipeg Jets next, who since playing with Pierre Luc-Dubois have not allowed the Canucks to score a single goal on them. They then play the Toronto Maple Leafs who have yet to let the Canucks come close to beating them at all, and then they play the Montreal Canadiens. Need I say more?

The Canucks need something actionable to come from up top. Whether that’s a shift in some on-ice personal, or a contract for their coach that just took them to the playoffs. The hand tying that Aquilini has done to his team is only going to end with them falling on their faces. This unless the owner has what it takes, to cut them loose soon.