After the Troy Stecher signing from last week, there was just one impending RFA to sign a contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
That was the pride of Abbotsford, Jake Virtanen, who re-upped with the Canucks on a two-year, $2.5 million deal. He’s slated to make $1.25 million next season.
The deal will make Virtanen the tenth-highest paid forward on the roster, just behind Markus Granlund and ahead of Brock Boeser, who is still on his entry-level deal.
With Virtanen now signed, the #Canucks have 14 forwards, 8 D and 2 goalies under contract for next season.— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) July 25, 2018
They have 9.27 million in cap space.
This deal seems fair for both sides. Virtanen has at least proven to be capable at the NHL level, although he’s yet to do it on a consistent basis. He showed flashes towards the end of the season during garbage time, although he won’t be gifted top-six minutes when the Canucks have a healthy roster.
Even though 10 goals and 20 points was a respectable performance for Virtanen, there wasn’t much evidence of growth statistically compared to his rookie season in 2015-16. His points-per-60, goals-per-60, scoring-chances per-60, and other underlying stats were all similar to his rookie season. One thing worth noting however, is that Virtanen spent more time in a defensive role compared to his rookie campaign.
Travis Green might see Virtanen in more of a defensive role based on his usage from last season. It’s an area where he’s improved throughout his NHL career, and the Canucks can utilize his speed on the counter-attack.
Don’t think Virtanen gets enough credit for how good he is defensively. Seems to have turned a corner and earned Greener’s trust as a legitimate bottom-six middle guy. Offensive opportunities & chances to move up in the lineup are on the horizon. #Canucks— Grady Sas (@GradySas) July 25, 2018
This deal really boils down to Virtanen having two years to prove that he’s worth more than just fourth-line money. This is a player who’s been heavily scrutinized, even though he’s only going to be 22 years old at the start of next season. He now has two years to hone his skill set and grow with the team and they try to climb out of the depths of the NHL’s basement.
Really though, we should just all forget this analysis. As many have mentioned now, Virtanen is a lock to score 20 goals next year, and he will be a key part of helping the Canucks become the highest-scoring team in hockey.
While you’re off in fantasy-land for a second, here are some players who received similar deals to Virtanen this offseason.
2017-18 Stats: 61 GP, 8-10-18
26 years old, Re-signed with the Winnipeg Jets on a one-year, $1.15 million deal on July 22nd.
2017-18 Stats: 76 GP, 6-11-17
25 years old, Re-signed with the St. Louis Blues on a one-year, $1.1 million deal on July 7th.
2017-18 Stats: 75 GP, 6-8-14
25 years old, Re-signed with the Boston Bruins on a three-year, $3.825 million deal on July 3rd ($1.275 million AAV).
2017-18 Stats: 10 GP, 0-4-4
25 years old, Signed with the Calgary Flames on a two-year, $2.5 million deal on July 1st ($1.25 million AAV).
2017-18 Stats: 75 GP, 7-9-16
26 years old, Re-signed with the Washington Capitals on a one-year, $1 million deal on June 27th.
2017-18 Stats: 67 GP, 13-7-20
24 years old, Re-signed with the Edmonton Oilers on a two-year, $3 million deal on June 14th ($1.25 million AAV).
In terms of this offseason, there aren’t many players quite as young as Virtanen to sign an NHL deal. He’s in a bit of a unique position considering how early he broke into the NHL, but his deal compares favourably to most of these contracts.
The Canucks are paying Virtanen on what he has accomplished so far, as opposed to paying him based on potential. Hopefully, this organization has learned their lesson after signing Ben Hutton to a contract that was potential-based.
Consider this, as talented as some think Austin Czarnik is, he signed an identical deal to Virtanen despite suiting up in only 10 NHL games last season. He’s put up big points in the NHL, and is reminiscent to former Canuck Linden Vey.
Virtanen’s Contract vs. The Price of Veteran Leadership
One other point that Virtanen’s contract hits, is that it makes guys contracts like the ones given out to Jay Beagle and Leo Komarov seem that much more ridiculous. Both of those contracts were blatant overpayments for veteran leadership. While there’s value in that, it doesn’t justify the four-year deals given out to both players.
Patrick Maroon alluded to as much on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, where he referenced those deals after he signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the St. Louis Blues. While Jay Beagle scored at Virtanen’s pace in 2017-18, Maroon scored more than both players combined. That’s without even mentioning Komarov and his three goals last season.
While Virtanen’s deal is ballpark for players in his age cohort (or slightly above) it further highlights the mistakes made by some teams on the opening day of free agency.
Here’s hoping that Virtanen can outperform the bar set by Beagle, at just a fraction of the cost. If he can reach Maroon’s level of productivity before the end of his deal, the Canucks should be more than happy to pay the man.