Jake Virtanen will be looking to return to the NHL this fall after signing a pro tryout deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
Virtanen has been out of the NHL since May 2021 following allegations of sexual misconduct. When the 2021 season ended, the Vancouver Canucks bought out the remaining year of his contract.
While Virtanen received an acquittal, the civil suit is still pending and lawyers contend that the acquittal clearly does not acquit Virtanen. Now he’s back within the reach of the NHL, despite the controversy his signing has generated.
Why the Oilers signed Virtanen on a PTO basis
Last season, the 26-year-old forward played 36 games in the KHL for Spartak Moscow. Statistically, the season was not a successful one, with Virtanen only scoring nine goals and 16 points. However, the Oilers are hoping that the 2014 No. 6 pick can unlock the on-ice potential that followed him to the NHL during his first tenure. That hope is driving the Oilers to defend their new signing.
“You have to believe in the judicial system, the jury found him not guilty,” said Oilers general manager Ken Holland.
Holland, however, acknowledged that there were unresolved issues with Virtanen.
“Over the next two weeks, I have to sort out the moral issue.”
In his 317 NHL games to date, Virtanen has 55 goals and 45 assists. It’s not the same scoring record, especially given his performance last season in the KHL, which is screaming for an upgrade for the Oilers. Edmonton is returning a powerful offense featuring Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and another player with a history of violence against women in Evander Kane, who was re-signed by the Oilers in the offseason for a new four year contract. contract.
Holland likely sees Virtanen as a potential solution to Edmonton’s lack of depth on the right flank. With a strong camp and assuming that Holland will resolve the “moral issue”, Virtanen could take a place in the bottom six.
Jake Virtanen sexual harassment case
Virtanen was charged in January 2022 following an alleged attack on a downtown Vancouver hotel in 2017 and was found not guilty at the end of July. While the verdict concludes the criminal case, the fact that Virtanen was charged demonstrated that the prosecutor saw fit to file charges and appeared before the court, demonstrating Crown believed there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction based on the evidence provided by the police.speaks of the controversial nature of Virtanen’s signing.
During her testimony, the plaintiff stated 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 “active participant” in that night.
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 testimony in court, a verdict of not guilty was handed down.
However, the case turned into a civil suit between the parties.
With the severity of the alleged crimes, the issue did not disappear either from the courts or from the minds of lawyers.
“It tells me that the Oilers are sending the message that they are taking the verdict at face value, no matter what the allegations were, which were very, very serious.” said Mary Jane James, CEO of the Edmonton Sexual Assault Center..
“This sends a terrible message to our community about what they prioritize. They are betting their chances of building a successful team with the terrible message that there is someone on their team who is being accused of such a heinous crime.”
Why are people unhappy with the move?
During the trial, Virtanen’s lawyer Brock Martland was criticized for blaming the victim after suggesting that the plaintiff should have come up with an excuse not to have sex with Virtanen, ignoring questions of consent and the violence that came with it.
“You didn’t make excuses for him, whether it was ‘I have thrush’, ‘I am menstruating’, ‘I can’t. Have you come up with something? Martland asked the jury. The victim in this case replied: “What else can you say? Should I write this for him, saying, “I said no, I say no? I don’t know what else to do.”
Despite actions in the courtroom, the result was a verdict of not guilty, but as the legal world and sexual assault advocates argue, acquittals do not unambiguously prove innocence. Innocence, by definition, means the absence of a crime. However, in the criminal justice system, a verdict of not guilty means that the prosecution cannot prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime was committed.
Cases and sentences like Virtanen’s case show why many victims don’t come forward right away, sexual assault advocates say.
“Unfortunately, this trial and this verdict confirms what many victims fear when they come forward.” said Angela Marie McDougallExecutive Director of Battered Women Support Services in Vancouver.
Because of the burden of proof placed on victims, taking cases like the Virtanen case to civil lawsuits is one of the few avenues available to victims to seek justice and address sexual assault, McDougall said.
“I think if the criminal system is going to be the measure of justice, and we see that it isn’t, then I think society will have to look for other ways to deal with sexual violence because it doesn’t abate.”
Although Virtanen was found not guilty, his innocence remains in question. Now whether he makes it to the Oilers will depend on his performance on the ice in training camp and Holland’s morale.
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