We have reached part seven of our Columbus Blue Jackets Trading Partners series. In case you missed part six, we took a look at the Ottawa Senators.
The offseason in Vancouver will be fascinating to watch from a distance. They just pushed the Vegas Golden Knights to the brink in the playoffs. Thanks to a young dynamic core, fans of the Canucks have plenty of reason to be optimistic.
Setting the Scene
While exciting times are coming to British Columbia, this offseason will be critical to the success of the team moving forward? What will Jacob Markstrom’s next contract look like? Can they find deals for the likes of Brandon Sutter or Jay Beagle? But perhaps most importantly, can they find someone to take on the massive Loui Eriksson contract?
Eriksson has two years left on his deal at $6 million per season. Given the other pieces of business the team has to take care of, namely re-signing Tyler Toffoli if possible, that Eriksson contract hangs over the Canucks like a dark cloud.
From a Columbus Blue Jackets standpoint, they should avoid the above situations as it doesn’t make sense to pursue any of those given what their needs are. However the Canucks do have two players in my mind that the Blue Jackets should at least ask about.
In case you are reading this series for the first time, the Blue Jackets need forward help. Their goaltending and defense appear set for the immediate future. But they finished the regular season 27th in goals and struggled mightily on the power play. They will explore any avenue to bring an infusion of skill and goal scoring to the team.
In terms of what the Blue Jackets could deal in a trade, they have an abundance of defensemen. They also could choose to trade one of their young starting goaltenders. They also have the 21st overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft as well as some talented forward prospects should a higher-end talent become available now. If Josh Anderson cannot agree to a new contract, then he’s in play as well.
Now back to the two Canucks’ players the Blue Jackets should monitor. The first player I don’t see the Canucks parting with. The second one they are very interested in parting with. But is this a true match and could these two teams make a deal?
The players we will discuss here are Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen.
Let’s start with Pearson. He came over to the Canucks in the 2018-19 season in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 69 games this season, he scored 21 goals and 45 points. His 45 points was a career high.
Pearson will be a UFA after the 2020-21 season. He comes with a cap hit of a manageable $3.75 million. He’s a middle-six left winger who can play in all situations including both special teams units.
While he has some appeal from a Blue Jackets’ standpoint, I don’t see them trying to pursue Pearson. Plus I don’t see the Canucks dealing him.
Gus Nyquist is already on the left side. Alex Texier can play the left side although the team sees him long-term at center. If you’re the Blue Jackets, I don’t see why you’d deal for someone on the verge of UFA when you already have players on your roster that should be able to fulfill that role.
From a Canucks’ perspective, who do you have on the roster behind Pearson should they trade him? Despite being UFA after next season, it doesn’t make much sense to deal him when he has a clearly defined role on the team. This is not a match for these two teams.
Canucks GM Jim Benning was blunt in his assessment of Virtanen after the playoff series.
Virtanen had a career season with the Canucks in 2019-20 with 18 goals and 36 points. He scored a third of those goals on the power play. He’s 6-foot-1 and just a shade under 225 pounds. He’s a good skater for being a bigger body. There is just so much to like here but he’s vastly underwhelmed in his Canucks’ career.
Virtanen is an RFA but has arbitration rights. Here’s where things get tricky. Are the Canucks willing to pay him what he might get in arbitration? He was on a two-year deal at $1.25 million per season. Given his 18 goals and career offensive season, he could get double or more on his next contract. It could approach $3 million. That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re Benning. They have other priorities given the cap crunch and flat-cap world we live in. I have to believe they’re looking for a trade given the circumstances.
Why the Blue Jackets Should Pursue
Now the Blue Jackets. If you believe they are in on Jesse Puljujarvi as was recently reported by Elliotte Friedman, you have to believe they’ll at least consider Virtanen’s situation. Do they believe Virtanen has more and will it come out? And would they be willing to go to around $3 million per on his next contract?
If Virtanen becomes a perennial 20-goal scorer, then it’s a bargain. I think you seriously consider this kind of move should the right deal come together.
If the Canucks have a need the Blue Jackets could fill, it’s on defense. Alex Edler is there. Tyler Myers is there. Quinn Hughes is a rising star. Jordie Benn has one-year left on his deal before he’s a UFA. Troy Stecher is an RFA but likely coming back. Chris Tanev and Oscar Fantenberg are UFA but probably not coming back. They could use an affordable body.
I reached out to our resident Canucks expert at the Hockey Writers Matthew Zator to get his take on why Virtanen in Vancouver hasn’t worked out and what the Canucks might be looking for in a potential deal. This is what he had to say.
“I think Virtanen just lacks the work ethic and consistency,” Zator said. “I believe he needs a change of scenery. (He has spent) too much time with the same coaching staff. He definitely has the skills, that’s (the frustrating part.) You see the immense potential (speed, shot, etc.) He also doesn’t have the highest hockey IQ either. I still believe he can be a consistent 20-goal scorer, but only in a top-six role. He seems to play better with skilled players.”
And as for a potential Virtanen return in a trade: “I want to say at least a second round pick or a mid-range prospect,” Zator said. “The Canucks need to shed salary and not take back money.”
That last sentence falls in line with what we mentioned earlier about the Canucks need to take care of other business. This is perhaps why swinging this deal from a Blue Jackets’ perspective is not only achievable, it’s very realistic. If all it would take is a mid-range prospect or a draft pick, GM Jarmo Kekalainen should speed dial Benning and talk.
Although the Blue Jackets don’t have a second or third rounder in the 2020 NHL Draft, they have a pool of prospects they could pull from. Perhaps a player like former first-round pick Gabriel Carlsson makes sense. He’s 23. He too is an RFA like Virtanen. A change of scenery could be needed for him as he has fallen down the depth chart. He could be signed at an affordable rate that wouldn’t break the Canucks wallet. Carlsson seemingly would have more of an opportunity to make an impact in Vancouver.
This situation feels like a match for both teams given what it would accomplish. The Blue Jackets would get a player with skill who has upside who could shine next to a player like Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Canucks would get a defensive player who would get an opportunity to play higher in the lineup when he’s ready and would be cost effective.
Teams are aware of the consistency issues surrounding Virtanen. That’s why the price might be in the range where the Blue Jackets can take advantage. If the Canucks ask is too much, you simply move on. But if all it would take to make a deal is someone like Carlsson, you do this deal 11 times out of 10.
Through seven parts of our series, Virtanen might make the most sense of all the players we’ve evaluated. The Canucks are interested in moving him and the price doesn’t seem astronomical. I could actually see this trade happening in real life. It will all come down to how the Blue Jackets value him and if they actually want to bring him in.
That does it for the Canadian portion of our series. Stay tuned for part eight as we start our tour of the United States and evaluate another rebuilding team in the Detroit Red Wings.