Why the Canucks should give Jake Virtanen a one-year deal

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

Jake Virtanen is among the many key players that the Vancouver Canucks need to re-sign this offseason. Here’s why they should give him a one-year deal.

Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen finally broke out in 2019-20 with 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games.

But the remainder of the regular season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vancouver will head into a best-of-five qualifying round matchup against the Minnesota Wild, with the winner receiving a trip to the round of 16.

Virtanen got close to the 20-goal mark for the second straight year; he posted 15 in 70 games last season. If the league did finish out the 82-game campaign, one has to assume that “Big Jake” would have hit 20 for the first time in his career.

But the bottom line is that Virtanen finally put it all together this season, and we know he has that 20-goal potential in him. Barring any surprises, the 23-year-old pending RFA will receive a new deal from general manager Jim Benning this offseason.

Virtanen’s contract negotiations could get interesting. Would he want a long-term deal right away? Or would he be keen on taking a one-year deal, with the hope that if he continues to improve in 2020-21, he’ll set himself up for an even more lucrative contract?

For the Canucks, the latter would be the best case scenario.

Benning has very little cap space to work with. Top goalie Jacob Markstrom, veteran blueliner Chris Tanev and trade deadline pickup Tyler Toffoli are pending UFAs. Aside from Virtanen, Troy Stecher and Adam Gaudette are pending RFAs.

Ideally, at least two or three of these players would settle on hometown discounts and/or short-term pacts. Virtanen never got to complete his breakout season, and the Canucks still don’t know what they have in him.

Will he be a multi-time 20-goal scorer and capable top-six forward? Or was 2019-20 simply a mirage, and maybe Virtanen is more suited for a third line role?

That’s why the Canucks should look to give him a one-year “prove it” contract. See if Virtanen can blossom and continue to build off his career year. And if he does, reward him with a long-term contract. And if he doesn’t? Then Benning can try to work out a more team-friendly deal with Virtanen in 2021.

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In looking at Vancouver’s salary cap situation, along with the amount of pending free agents, it simply makes the most sense for Benning to give Virtanen a one-year deal. And if the latter continues to increase his production next season, he’ll ensure a long-term future with the Canucks.