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Jake Virtanen avoids arbitration, signs new 2-year contract

October 23, 2020, 2:05 PM ET [271 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Vancouver Canucks accomplished the last significant item on their offseason to-do list when they announced on Thursday that they've signed Jake Virtanen to a new two-year contract that carries a cap hit of $2.55 million per season.

That more than doubles his salary from his last deal — a two-year contract that was worth $2.5 million in total. Nice work if you can get it in these uncertain times, but the number does come in a bit lower than what was being speculated in the marketplace. I had heard talk that if he went to arbitration, he'd have a shot at getting something closer to $3 million.

Virtanen was in good spirits on his Zoom call with the media on Thursday. He has been up in the Okanagan, where he often spends his offseasons, and said that he has been working out regularly with Tyler Myers. The pair use the gym in Myers' home in the mornings, then skate with some other NHLers in the area later in the day.

Given the challenges that Jake has had in the past with his offseason training regimens, I think this buddy system could turn out to pay big dividends.

"Mysie, he's a different animal in the gym," Virtanen said. "He trains really hard.

"I head over there every morning. Obviously, everything from the training to eating habits, meal plans, the whole thing that we're doing together, which is pretty unreal. Nice to have a teammate, too, to do it with me.

"Mysie introduced me to a lot of the stuff. He knows a lot more about Kelowna than I do, so he's been showing me things to do and stuff like that."

"He kinda treats me like his son a little bit too, which is pretty cool. I'll go over there post-workout, we'll have smoothies. We'll go skate together and then the rest of the day we just kinda hang out, so it's good."

After Adam Gaudette admitted earlier in the week that he was eying Tyler Toffoli's now-vacant spot on the depth chart, Virtanen said, "Obviously, I'd love to play top six, have a bigger opportunity, more responsibilities. That's what I really hope I get. I want to be able to prove to the team and my teammates that I can play up there, and be consistent every night.

"It's an opening for me to jump up there. I've gotta make sure that I come into camp ready to go.

"I want to be a responsible guy in different situations, whether it's power play, start some on the PK if I have to. I want to start being able to open the opportunities for me. I want to make sure that I'm able to do that."

Virtanen is the last of the Canucks' RFAs to be brought under contract. CapFriendly is now showing the club with a complete 23-player roster, but there are two issues:

• The cap hit for that group is just over $83 million, $1.5 million more than next season's $81.5 million salary cap ceiling.

• The player distribution is 15 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goaltenders. Certainly not the roster composition that we'd see in real life.

If the Canucks bury Sven Baertschi (or any other big-ticket player) in the minors, they'd get cap relief of $1,075,000 for the season.

Of course, that also opens up a roster spot that would need to be filled — at a minimum of $700,000 for a player on a league-minimum contract. So the *net* relief is really only $375,000 — or less — for each player who gets buried.

• With Virtanen's contract now settled, the Canucks do also get another brief buyout window this weekend.

The player whose name gets bandied about here is Brandon Sutter, who's on the last year of a deal that carries a cap hit of $4.375 million — so he qualifies.

Sutter has already received a $1 million signing bonus for this season. If he gets bought out, he'd be paid $1.17 million in each of the next two seasons. That would save the Canucks $1.17 million in real dollars — but again, they'd have to fill that roster spot with a different player, who'd earn at least $700,000. So the cash savings would be negligible.

But the cap impact *is* pretty appealing. The cap hit would drop from $4.375 million for the 2020-21 season all the way down to $2.04 million. The difference of $2.33 million would not only cover the current overage — it would also leave $830,000 in additional wiggle room for Sutter's replacement.

As I mentioned here earlier in the week, it does sort of look like the Canucks are counting on getting the cap relief they need from Micheal Ferland and his $3.5 million cap hit going on Long-Term Injured Reserve. But I don't think the club can be 100 percent certain about that — so I would assume that there has to also be a Plan B.

I do think Sutter is valued in the organization — by management, the coaching staff and the players in the room. So it'll be interesting to see if Benning does feel that he needs to trigger a buyout this weekend.

We still have not had an arbitration hearing yet this year. The five players whose dates have passed all settled before their scheduled hearings.

Next up is Tyler Bertuzzi of Detroit — scheduled for Sunday. The two sides have now submitted their briefs:

Bertuzzi is a year and a half older than Virtanen and was drafted one year earlier. Interesting that Jake has significantly more NHL games played — 279 vs. 199 for Bertuzzi. But Bertuzzi has back-to-back 21-goal seasons and was flirting with 50 points when the season was paused in March. It looks like he'll come in at last $1 million higher than Virtanen.

Jake's near-perfect comparable, who we can now watch over the next two years, is Denis Gurianov of the Dallas Stars. His new contract was announced about an hour after Virtanen's on Thursday — an identical two-year deal with a cap hit of $2.55 million.

Like Virtanen, Gurianov was also a first-round draft pick. He's 10 months younger, selected 12th overall in 2015.

Also like Virtanen, Gurianov's development path has been less than smooth. He has been in North America since 2016, but only graduated to full-time NHL status this season — and still played two games this year with the Texas Stars, even as he hit 20 goals in the regular season and added another 17 points in 27 postseason games.

Whether it was the grind of the playoffs or an inability to stay mentally sharp, Gurianov's play did drop off in the later rounds. During the Stanley Cup Final, Dallas coach Rick Bowness said he thought Gurianov had gotten nervous.

The biggest difference between these two cases: Because he has only 86 games of NHL experience and was coming off his entry-level contract, Gurianov was not eligible for arbitration — so his negotiating power was more limited. Nevertheless, I'll be very curious to see how he and Virtanen stack up against each other over the next two seasons.
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