Canucks’ Buying Out Virtanen Was the Right Move

Jake Virtanen’s turbulent tenure with the Vancouver Canucks is officially over. The buyout process officially began on July 25, 2021, when the Canucks placed Virtanen on unconditional waivers for purpose of a buyout.

Virtanen, 24, was drafted sixth overall by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Born in New Westminster, British Columbia, he spent his childhood growing up in Langley, followed by a move to nearby Abbotsford where he began playing hockey. Despite his status as a hometown player, he has widely been seen as a bust by Vancouver fans. In six NHL seasons, he has cracked the 30-point mark just once. This occurred in 2019-20, when he set career highs in: goals (18), assists (18) and points (36) amid the “Shotgun Jake” movement. The 2019-20 season proved to be a mirage, as he struggled to perform in 2020-21 and nabbed a measly five points (all of them were goals) in 38 games played.

On July 26, Virtanen officially cleared waivers, signifying he would be bought out. His contract carried a cap hit of $2.55 million through 2021-22, and the buyout penalty will count as $50,000 against the Canucks’ cap space in 2021-22 and as $500,000 in the 2022-23 season.

Virtanen’s Issues at Training Camps (2016 & 2019)

Throughout Virtanen’s rocky tenure with the Canucks, he’s had various reported issues during training camps. For example, prior to his sophomore season (2016-17) he allegedly showed up Vancouver’s preseason out of shape. The Canucks supposedly issued a directive for him to weigh around 213 pounds, however he showed up weighing 231 pounds (per ‘Ben Kuzma: Virtanen’s roster wait may be over now that weight’s right’, The Province, 9/13/17). This impacted his playing time during the 2016-17 season, as he spent much more time in the American Hockey League (AHL) as a sophomore than he did as a rookie.

Season NHL GamesAHL Games
2016-1710 65
Chart comparing his rookie and sophomore seasons

Another training camp roadblock for Virtanen occurred in 2019-20, just prior to his best NHL season. Head coach Travis Green felt Virtanen was not meeting expectations and relegated him to skating with Group C (a group of AHL players who weren’t expected to make the NHL).

Green said:

“There’s certain expectations that he wanted to reach and I wanted him to reach… We both agreed that there were goals that had to be met and that if he didn’t reach them he probably wouldn’t be with the first two groups on the first day of camp.”

Daily Hive

Regardless of why Virtanen skated with the AHL group at the Canucks’ 2019 training camp, alongside showing up to 2016’s camp out of shape, it indicates he wasn’t the best at meeting Vancouver’s expectations of him.

Accusations Against Virtanen

Although Virtanen’s play in 2020-21 was extremely underwhelming, it’s widely thought a key reason he was bought out is because of the accusations against him. Without them, he probably would’ve been allowed to finish his final season with the team, rather than Vancouver taking on a minimal amount of dead cap space for the next two seasons.

On May 1, 2021, the Canucks placed Virtanen on leave, following allegations of sexual misconduct. The team’s official statement is below:

The woman who made the allegations spoke to Alanna Kelly of Glacier Media and discussed the alleged incident. Afterwards, the Vancouver Police Department confirmed it was looking into the allegations. Court documents were filed on May 13, 2021, in Kelowna, B.C, regarding the alleged sexual misconduct; Virtanen denied the allegations in a response on June 1.

The End

This marks the end of Virtanen’s tumultuous tenure with the Canucks. Overall, he was a highly disappointing draft pick for the team, as he didn’t live up to the promise that comes along with being a sixth-overall selection. The only time he seemed somewhat close to developing into a true top-six forward was during the “Shotgun Jake” season of 2019-20, but this hope quickly crumbled. His struggles on the ice and to meet the Canucks’ expectations (e.g. the 2016 training camp weight target), combined with the sexual assault allegations surrounding him, made this both a highly foreseeable and predictable move for Vancouver’s managerial/ownership team to make.

The buyout clears up cap space that can be used to help extend more valuable player’s contract, or it can be used to bring in a less troublesome, more reliable, bottom-six forward who isn’t embroiled in a scandal. Lastly, parting ways with a scandal-ridden player who has yet to live up to his potential was the right move for Vancouver to make.

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