As of September 19, 2002 the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club has chosen to extend PTOs to both Jason Demers and Jake Virtanen for their upcoming training camp. While these decisions are certainly interesting ones based on some of the previous moves made by the Oilers management group, only one seems to make much sense.
Demers has spent 12 years in the NHL with just under 700 games played; spent the 2020-2021 season with the Arizona Coyotes. With a respectable but not wowing 214 points during his 12 NHL seasons, Demers style of play may be useful in allowing some of the Oilers more offensively minded defenders a stay at home support. Having not played at the NHL level for the 2021-2022 season, it does make sense that the Oilers would want to see if the veteran defender has what it takes to continue to play in the NHL. His performance in the KHL and for Canada at the Olympics seems to be firmly mediocre and a PTO is a definite chance to prove he’s still competitive.
The primary issue with these PTOs is Jake Virtanen. Virtanen has had a reputation for being a problematic player lacking in discipline since his junior days. Personally, I very clearly remember his less than clean play for the Hitmen resulting in suspension and players on the other side injured. He also has a moderately famous meltdown while playing for the Canadian World Junior team.
Statistically, Virtanen played 317 NHL games with 100 points to show for them. Not the worst and if that was the only baggage around Jake Virtanen then this PTO blurb would obviously be being written by someone else.
The Edmonton Oilers Management team have chosen to take a chance on inviting an individual who was just found not guilty of sexual assault by the British Columbia court system. Please note, before you start screaming that means he’s innocent, that not guilty is not the same as innocent. What the verdict does indicate is that there is not enough evidence to convict. Not innocence.
Whether the Oilers Management want to acknowledge this fact or not, Jake Virtanen’s PTO has placed them in a position of creating a trend. When they signed Evander Kane,— twice – over the objections of fans who pointed to Kane’s extensive history of being involved in sexual assault investigations, they clearly said that winning was more important than a team which could be cheered for by all fans. Fans identifying as women are a fast growing segment of fans for the NHL, but decisions to demarcate off ice behaviour are extremely off putting. It is a consistent reminder the NHL’s inclusion rhetoric is only words and can have serious impacts on the safety of women attending hockey games on their own.
Before someone in the comments says that these two ideas are not connected, I would strongly suggest you don’t because then I get to write an article about how they are. And let’s be clear, that is not a feel good article.
This summer saw the Oilers Organization support Nicholson despite his heavy involvement in the Hockey Canada sexual assault scandals which go back about 20 years have been aggressively covered up by Canada’s governing body for hockey.
And now, the Oilers have invited Virtanen, who by all statistical measures, is a mediocre hockey player who hasn’t positively contributed at the NHL level in several seasons and was decent but not overwhelming in the KHL.
Signing Jake Virtanen to a PTO is the Oilers seeking another redemption story where there is no evidence the talent exists to carry it, and the team itself has over played its welcome on such reductive and insulting rhetoric.
Here’s hoping he get’s cut quickly so we can all go back to trying to enjoy Oilers hockey.