Why the Oilers signed Jake Virtanen and why people are upset about the move

The Oilers signed Jake Virtanen to a PTO earlier this month.  (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
the oilers signed Jake Virtanen to a PTO earlier this month. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jake Virtanen will be looking to find his way back to an NHL roster this fall after sign a professional trial contract with the Edmonton tankers.

Virtanen has been out of the NHL since May 2021 following sexual assault allegations. When the 2021 season ended, the vancouver canucks bought the remaining year of his contract.

While Virtanen received a not guilty verdict, a civil suit is still ongoing, and as advocates claim, a not guilty verdict does not explicitly acquit Virtanen. Now, he is once again within reach of the NHL despite the controversy that his signing unleashed.

Why the Oilers signed Virtanen to a PTO

Last season, the 26-year-old striker made 36 KHL appearances for Spartak Moscow. Statistically, it was not a successful season as Virtanen amassed just nine goals and 16 points. The Oilers, however, hope the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft can find potential in the ice that followed him into the NHL during his first term. That hope has the Oilers’ staff defending their new signing.

“You have to believe in the legal system, the jury found him not guilty,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said.

Holland, however, acknowledged ongoing issues that have not been resolved with Virtanen.

“I have to work out the moral problem in my own mind for the next two weeks.”

In his 317 NHL games to date, Virtanen has 55 goals and 45 assists. It’s not the type of scoring, especially given his production last season in the KHL, that he cries for an upgrade for the Oilers. Edmonton returns a powerful offense with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, zachhymanand another player with a complaint history involve violence against women in Evander Kanewho the tankers re-signed this offseason to a new four-year deal.

Holland most likely sees Virtanen as a possible solution to Edmonton’s lack of depth on the right flank. With a strong camp, and assuming the Netherlands solve the “moral problem”, Virtanen could fit into a bottom-six check role.

The Jake Virtanen sexual assault case

Charged in January 2022 following an alleged 2017 assault at a downtown Vancouver hotel, Virtanen received a not guilty verdict in late July. While the verdict ends the criminal case, the fact that Virtanen ended up indicted, showing that a prosecutor saw fit to press charges, and went to trial, showing the Crown believed there was a reasonable chance of conviction based on the evidence provided by the police.speaks to the controversial nature of Virtanen’s signing.

The plaintiff said during testimony that she repeatedly said “no” to Virtanen and that she did not want to have sex with him before he pinned her to the hotel bed. Virtanen claimed that the victim was an “enthusiastic participant” on the night in question.

In April 2021, news of the incident broke after the plaintiff posted her story on an Instagram account dedicated to victims of sexual assault. After five days of trial testimony, a not guilty verdict was returned.

However, the case has moved to a civil lawsuit between the parties.

With the seriousness of the alleged crimes, the issue has not disappeared from the courts, nor from the minds of defenders.

“He tells me that the Oilers are sending a message that they are taking the verdict at face value, regardless of what the allegations were, that they were very, very serious.” said Mary Jane James, executive director of the Edmonton Center for Sexual Assault.

“It’s sending a horrible message to our community about what they prioritize. They prioritize their chances of having a successful team over the horrible message of having someone on their team who has been charged with such a horrible crime.”

Why are people upset about moving?

During the trial, Virtanen’s attorney, Brock Martland, was criticized for blaming the victim after suggesting that the plaintiff should have made up an excuse not to have sex with Virtanen, ignoring the issues of consent and violence involved.

“You didn’t make an excuse for her, whether it’s ‘I have a yeast infection,’ ‘I’m menstruating,’ ‘I can’t.’ Didn’t something occur to you? Martland asked in front of the jury. The victim in the case responded by saying, “What else do you have to say? Do I have to write it down for him, saying ‘I said no, I’m saying no?’ I do not know what else to do.”

Despite court action, a not guilty verdict resulted, but as the legal world and sexual assault advocates assert, not guilty verdicts do not unequivocally prove innocence. Innocence, by definition, means that no crime was committed. However, in the criminal justice system, a “not guilty” verdict means that the prosecution could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime was committed.

As sexual assault advocates say, cases and verdicts like Virtanen’s speak to why many victims don’t come forward immediately.

“Unfortunately, what this trial and this verdict does is confirm what so many victims fear when they come forward,” said Angela Marie MacDougallexecutive director of Vancouver Battered Women’s Support Services.

Because of the burden of proof that falls on victims, taking cases like Virtanen’s to civil lawsuits, according to MacDougall, is one of the only avenues available for victims to receive justice and address sexual violence.

“I think that if the penal system is going to be a measure of justice, and we are seeing that it is not, then I think that society will have to find other ways to address sexualized violence because it continues unabated.”

Although Virtanen was found not guilty, his innocence remains in question. Now, whether he ends up with the Oilers will depend on his performance on the ice in training camp and a moral decision for the Netherlands.

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