By: Brayden Fengler / February 11, 2021
Is Jake Virtanen the key to all the Vancouver Canucks problems? Well if he is, it’s definitely not going to be in the way that GM Jim Benning probably imagined when drafting the winger 6th overall in the 2014 NHL entry draft.
With the Vancouver Canucks in a complete downhill spiral at the moment, the Virtanen trade rumors have been boiling back up to the surface again. But will trading away the 24-year-old bottom six forward, bring about enough much needed change for the Canucks?
Will the Canucks Trade Virtanen for Bennitt
When Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames announced he was requesting a trade out of the city, Vancouver fans tugged on Jim Benning’s shirt like a child trying to show their parent something at a grocery store. “No” Benning turned and said to the Vancouver fan base, “We have Sam Bennett at home.” Well, Sam Bennett at home has one more year on his contract than the real Sam Bennett, and his play and as a result, his deployment leaves more to be desired. (Sam Bennett at home = Jake Virtanen if you’ve understandably lost the train here).
Unfortunately for Canucks fans, the Bennett deal just doesn’t make sense for Calgary as a one for one. The two players are comparable in regards to their deployment on their respective teams, and their cap hit is identical at just over $2.5m, so the deal seems to make sense at a glance.
However, Virtanen’s contract has an extra year attached to it, ending after the 2021-22 season. This requires Virtanen to be a more long term fit for the Flames, whereas Bennett, whose contract is up after this season, only needs to be a temporary fix for the Canucks.
It boils down to Virtanen not being a sure enough thing for the Flames to likely want to take a chance on. Maybe if something else is packed into the deal, the Flames may go for it, but does it become worth it for the Canucks at that point?
Another Home for Virtanen in the North Division
According to CanucksArmy.com there was interest in Jake Virtanen from the Ottawa Senators over the offseason. Reportedly one version of a deal in the works would’ve had Virtanen as a nice bonus piece in exchange for the Sens taking on Loui Eriksson and his contract. What would the Canucks get in return? Well, that requires even further speculation, but it would likely have been a mix of prospects and or draft picks if anything at all.
Let’s be honest here though, getting Loui and his contract off the books would’ve been the main victory in a trade like that. There must be more to this story though because, despite any wheels that this deal may have had, it ended up falling through.
One benefit the Ottawa deal would’ve had for both clubs is that it would’ve been an exchange made involving players and teams on the same side of the border. The big thing is, if Jake doesn’t get dealt to a team inside the North Division, his value goes down immediately.
When dealing to an American organization, that team now has to be willing to wait for Jake, due to the quarantine nature of it all. It took Patrik Laine seven days and four missed Columbus Blue Jackets games until he was able to play for his new club across the border. Granted it apparently did take him more time than anticipated to sort out his visa on the Canadian side of the border.
What Else Have We Heard About Jake?
Elliot Freedman of Sportsnet recently stated that the Boston Bruins may have an interest in Virtanen, However what the Canucks may get in return is not hinted at.
Perhaps the Canucks could keep a Jake in their lineup and acquire Jake Debrusk. That trade would be along the same lines as a Sam Bennett deal, but this time both Debrusk and Virtanen have contracts of the same length. However Debrusk has a significantly bigger cap hit than Virtanen does at $3.7m, and the Canucks are already playing right up against the cap.
Unless Vancouver can manage to fit Loui, or another big-cap dump situation, into a deal they make with Virtanen, even a marginal upgrade to a player like Debrusk doesn’t seem to be in the cap cards.
Jake Virtanen’s lower price could of course be used as a selling feature, however, it’s the term that may scare teams away. two years doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re looking at a player that’s had chance, after chance, after chance, and has proven to be consistently inconsistent, two years becomes a scary amount of time. Virtanen is 24 years old and depending on who you ask, he’s approaching, or at the age where his ceiling has more or less been identified. No team will want to trade for him if they’re afraid that his ceiling is going to come crashing down.
What If We Don’t Move Him
If we don’t trade Jake, which there is a large chance of, then what do we do with him? Do Travis and Jim decide to give him one more “one more” chance and up his deployment, in hopes to force a spark in his game?
I mean, if the Canucks are already losing with Virtanen in the nosebleeds, then what’s the harm in playing him more? Well on the scoresheet, probably nothing, but the fact of the matter is, Virtanen hasn’t earned more time. He’s been perfectly average, the generator of just as many chances for his team, as he’s coughed up for the other team as well. A player like that doesn’t fall face-first into more minutes.
Jake has been playing on the bottom six with his time on ice increasing over his last five games. He barely even cracked ten minutes, playing only 9:20 and 10:47 in both Canucks wins against the Ottawa Senators.
This suggests that his inclusion in the roster was not a factor in what caused the Canucks to win those games. Virtanen Played 14 minutes in the Canucks loss to the Montreal Canadiens and 12 minutes in both losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In his last five times dressing in Canucks colours he’s also gone pointless, with his biggest highlight being a +2 in a Canucks blowout game against the Sens on January 25th. If teams are looking for a guy to just “be there” when his team is scoring and “sort of be around” when his team is getting scored on, then Benning has the player for them. Unfortunately, and understandably a wallflower is not something that teams are often looking for.
Players like Tyler Motte, Antoine Roussel, and other bottom line guys have made a huge impact for their team this year. This is to say that just because Jake isn’t on the top lines, that doesn’t mean he can’t meaningfully produce for his team. His teammates have shown that there is room to produce in this bottom six, and yet Jake just can’t seem to find it.
The Window on Jake’s Value Is Closing
The window to get the most out of a Virtanen trade would’ve been in the offseason. Maybe after the contract was signed but before he had games under his belt to prove how much he hasn’t been living up to it.
It feels like the Canucks have given this local boy more chances than many players have been given in their careers. Every Canucks fan thought at one point, surely one of those chances would’ve been the time that everything for Jake Virtanen finally clicks. However, it appears that Jim Benning’s statement of wishing he saw more out of Jake last season, still holds true.
What the Canucks do with him now is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear at this stage in the season. Whatever moves they make with Jake Virtanen are no longer going to be from a position of power, like they once could’ve been.