Canucks: What could Jake Virtanen’s next contract look like?

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 08: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck in NHL action against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on February 8, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 08: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck in NHL action against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on February 8, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

After a breakout season, Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen will certainly command a hefty raise. So what could his next contract look like?

Six years after he was drafted, Jake Virtanen has finally broken through this season for the Vancouver Canucks, giving fans a glimpse of the player they’ve all envisioned him to be.

Luckily for him, it couldn’t have come at a better time, as Virtanen is about to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

The Canucks have a handful of contracts expiring this summer, and none of their pending free agents are guaranteed to be on the team next season. However, given the fact that Virtanen is a homegrown talent and just beginning to enter his prime, it seems likely that the speedy winger will be back with Vancouver for the foreseeable future.

In order to see what type of contract Virtanen might sign this summer, we need to first examine some past comparables that both the player and team could be looking at. The table below shows the types of contracts that arbitration-eligible players have signed over the past three offseasons and their respective stats:

As you can see, all of these players signed relatively short contracts with average annual values, ranging between $2.5-3.5 million per season. Virtanen’s next deal will most likely be something similar since most restricted free agents these days don’t seem to have much of an appetite for signing longer contracts.

Looking back at general manager Jim Benning’s previous RFA signings, he seems to have a tendency of locking up core players to longer deals while offering complementary pieces shorter contracts.

Bo Horvat was locked down for six years and Chris Tanev for five while guys like Troy Stecher and Sven Baertschi were inked to two and three-year deals, respectively. Brock Boeser was the only core piece that signed a shorter contract, though it was reported that Benning did offer a long-term deal.

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Although Virtanen has already been with Vancouver for five seasons, his production and value to the team seem to be more in line with the Stechers of the world instead of the Horvats.

Since this is the first season he has shown the capability of producing with relative consistency, Benning will most likely want to sign him to a bridge deal and see if he can maintain or improve on his current level of play.

A two-year contract that ends in the summer of 2022 seems to be the most plausible outcome, as this means that Virtanen will still have a year left before he’s eligible to become a UFA.

The Canucks won’t be willing to walk him right to free agency and Virtanen won’t want to take a pay cut to make that happen. A deal that buys a few of Virtanen’s UFA years seems even less likely as the term will be too long for the team’s liking.

Looking at the past comparables, Chris Tierney’s deal seems to fit Virtanen’s current situation the best. The former signed a two-year contract that ends one year before he can become a UFA and put up similar numbers to Virtanen. When comparing the two players’ previous seasons, Virtanen’s stats were slightly stronger; however, this could be offset by Tierney’s better defensive game and the fact that he can play center.

On the other hand, Virtanen could counter by using J.T. Compher’s deal as a more suitable comparable. Even though Compher’s contract buys a UFA season, the average annual salary is still considerably higher than all the other players on the list. Virtanen was also on pace to put up stronger totals than the Avalanche forward, even though he cooled off significantly during the most recent stretch of games.

The most that Virtanen could command would probably be slightly above the $3 million range, similar to the one that Jean-Gabriel Pageau signed in 2017. Virtanen’s numbers are stronger than Pageau’s during their respective contract seasons, but the Senators centre put up better totals in the season prior to his signing and is much more responsible defensively, similar to Tierney.

The one caveat that no one saw coming is the current suspension of the 2019-2020 season. Although the salary cap was supposed to increase next season, nobody knows what will happen anymore due to the stoppage in play. However, this shouldn’t stop the team and player from using past comparables as a way of negotiating a new contract when that day comes.

Overall, it seems plausible that the Canucks and Virtanen will agree to a two-year deal with an average annual value between $2.9 to 3.1 million. History shows that Benning likes to sign secondary pieces to bridge deals, and Virtanen probably won’t have any desire to take a pay cut in order to walk straight to free agency this early in his career.

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The one thing everyone hopes is that Virtanen will keep improving for the Canucks. There’s no doubt the talented winger is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.