Thoughts on Jake Virtanen, Danton Heinen — and Nikita Tryamkin
The Vancouver Canucks have the weekend off from game action, but that didn't mean that they dropped out of the conversation. Here in Canada, the teams in the North Division remain under constant scrutiny.
On Saturday, most of the conversation revolved around a possible trade with the Anaheim Ducks, involving two boys with Langley roots: Vancouver winger Jake Virtanen and Anaheim centre Danton Heinen.
Both were drafted in 2014, but Heinen, now 25, is a year older. While Virtanen was a high-profile WHL player with the Calgary Hitmen, Heinen went the BCHL route. He was drafted in the fourth round out of the Surrey Eagles, then spent two years at the University of Denver before turning pro with Boston.
In his rookie season in 2017-18, he put up 16 goals and 47 points with the Bruins; in 2019, he had eight points in 24 playoff games as the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Final. But at the 2020 trade deadline, the Bruins shipped him off to Anaheim for a player who has often been compared to Virtanen — big winger Nick Ritchie, who was drafted 10th overall in 2014, four spots behind Virtanen.
Listed at 6'1" and 188 pounds, Heinen doesn't have the same size as Ritchie or Virtanen. But he does have a decent reputation for taking care of the puck, which could make him more useful in Vancouver's bottom six than Virtanen tends to be.
It's hard to say what's going on with Heinen in Anaheim this year. The Ducks are sitting seventh in the West division with 17 points in 21 games, and are 2-5-3 in their last 10.
Heinen has three goals and three assists in 17 games and is a minus-two, which is middle-of-the-pack on that team. When he was in the lineup, he was averaging 14:27 of ice time a game and seeing some power-play time. But he has been scratched in four of the Ducks' last seven games, including the last three. There have been lots of lineup shakeups in Anaheim, but I wonder if he was held out in hopes that a trade was imminent?
The Ducks have often been a team that has operated below the salary cap, but they're up against it just like everybody else this season — although Ryan Kesler's cap hit of $6.875 million gives them some LTIR relief.
Heinen is in the second year of a deal he signed in Boston, which carries a cap hit of $2.8 million and an actual salary that's slightly less, at $2.775 million. He'll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of the year, and he'd need to receive a qualifying offer of $2.775 million for his rights to be retained.
Meanwhile, Virtanen's in the first year of his two-year deal. At $2.55 million, his cap hit is a bit less. But he's being paid just $1.7 million in real dollars this year, then $3.4 million next season. Under the terms of the new Memorandum of Understanding, though, his qualifying offer would be 120 percent of the contract's Average Annual Value, which is $2.55 million. So, he'd need to be qualified at $3.06 million.
So, it is complicated. The Ducks are probably looking for some sort of sweetener that would justify them taking on more real money over the next year and a half, while the Canucks recognize that, in the first place, Heinen wouldn't be available for at least two weeks due to quarantine rules. And in the second place, they'd still need to commit significant dollars to be sure they kept him beyond the end of this season. If they didn't qualify him, they'd risk seeing him sign elsewhere, like Troy Stecher did during the last offseason.
And in addition to the fact that both teams are tight to the cap this season, the Ducks also have 50 contracts already on their books. It's not like Jim Benning could throw in an AHL prospect as the sweetener for the Ducks to absorb the extra money.
This is just me spitballing: I wonder if Nikita Tryamkin's NHL rights might be tempting to the Ducks?
The Canucks hold his NHL rights until the end of the 2021-22 season, but the relationship has definitely been testy all along. He wasn't happy during his year and a bit in North America in 2016 and 2017, so he went back to the KHL. Then, when he was ready to return to the Canucks this year, the club balked at signing him due to its financial constraints. Tryamkin waited for several months, then was eventually told that he wouldn't be signed this year after Jim Benning inked Jack Rathbone in mid-July — just a couple of weeks before training camps opened for the KHL.
Now, playoffs are set to begin in the Russian league. Tryamkin's team, Avtomobilist, finished seventh in its conference and is set to face No. 2 Avangard Omsk in Round 1, so his season could come to an end soon unless Avtomobilist pulls an upset.
He may still need to keep himself available to play for Russia at the World Championship in May. But given the Ducks' contract situation and another likely playoff miss, his appeal would lie in the fact that they *don't* have to sign him until the offseason.
It could be a good fit, too. The Ducks have just four NHL-level defensemen signed beyond this season. Their best blue-line prospect, Jamie Drysdale, is still just 18 years old, but is having no trouble with AHL competition. He has nine points in 11 games so far with the San Diego Gulls, who are sitting second in the league's revamped Pacific Division.
At this point, Jim Benning's decision to re-up Virtanen is not looking great. He has just one goal in 19 games, has been scratched a handful of times, and is averaging just 11:06 when he is in the lineup. He got a bigger opportunity against Edmonton on Thursday, moved up to play with Pearson and Horvat, and while he did manage three shots on goal, he also took a pair of first-period penalties that did nothing to help Vancouver's early momentum.
It does feel like a fresh start would be best for everyone.
But what about Tryamkin? We don't know what his salary demands were for this season, but do you think he would have been helpful if Benning had been able to find a way to fit him under the cap? Or do you think he would have been another distraction?