Rejoice Canucks fans, “Shotgun Jake” is back!
Wait, why’s no one cheering? Isn’t Virtanen a fan favourite hometown boy who no one wanted to see traded?
Sheesh, it was just a joke guys, you can all lower your pitchforks now.
Like it or not, the 24-year-old will probably be sticking around for a while longer after inking a two-year deal worth $2.55 million annually yesterday:
VAN announces 2x$2.55M extension for Jake Virtanen
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 22, 2020
Vancouver now has a full 23-man roster but is currently about $1.5 million over the salary cap, so the team still has work left to do in order to become cap compliant for next season. Before we dive into that issue, however, let’s first take a look at Virtanen’s new contract and see if it’s a fair deal for Vancouver.
Although many Canucks fans have soured on Virtanen in recent years, this signing is a win for a team that is significantly lacking depth on its right-wing. Back in March, when I was still an innocent young boy who thought that the 2020-21 season would’ve started by now, I compiled a list of contracts that Virtanen could use as comparables when negotiating his new deal.
Looking at the list, Virtanen’s closest comparable seemed to be J.T. Compher, who re-signed with the Avalanche last year for four years at an annual average value of $3.5 million per season. Of course, Compher’s ability to play centre and stronger defensive abilities made it unlikely that Virtanen would command as much, but it seemed plausible that the latter’s new contract could be worth as much as $3 million a year, if not more.
However, it is worth pointing out that those stats only account for his regular-season production; Virtanen’s lacklustre postseason showing certainly decreased some of his leverage during negotiations. Nonetheless, to be able to avoid arbitration (where Virtanen could’ve potentially commanded $3 million) and lock Virtanen up for only $2.55 million annually is tidy work by Jim Benning considering the fact that he produced at a middle-six rate and still has room to grow.
How the Contract Provides Flexibility for Vancouver
The two-year term also provides Vancouver with flexibility moving forward. Nowadays, young players have increasing leverage in contract negotiations and many of them try to sign deals that walk them straight to unrestricted free agency. In two years, Virtanen will still be a restricted free agent, which means that the team will control his rights and can decide whether or not to sign him to a longer extension or trade him for assets in return.
Furthermore, with the contract expiring after the 2021-22 season, the Canucks have ensured that they’ll have enough cap space to re-sign some of their future free agents. Much has already been said about Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes’ rookie deals that are set to expire next summer, but Brock Boeser is also up for a new deal in the 2022 offseason followed quickly by Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller the year after. By signing Virtanen to a short-term deal, Vancouver has avoided the risk of being bogged down by another potentially inefficient contract that could impede the team from retaining their free agents (*cough cough* Toffoli).
It should be noted that this contract is backloaded so Virtanen will be paid $1.7 million next season and $3.4 million in the 2021-22 season, which means that the Canucks’ qualifying offer will need to be at least $3.4 million when the deal expires. This might seem a bit rich for some fans, but given the fact that Virtanen could’ve signed for closer to $3 million if he reached arbitration and is still young enough to improve, that number could seem a lot more reasonable in two years time.
Ultimately, Virtanen’s new deal is cheaper than most predicted and will provide the Canucks with plenty of flexibility moving forward. More importantly, he fills a need on the team’s right-wing, and there’s reason to believe that he could fit in nicely alongside Petterson and Miller on Vancouver’s top line. No matter your opinion on Virtanen, this contract is a win for the Canucks, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more shotgunning in the years to come.