As the NHL door closes, one has once again opened in Russia.
Former Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen has signed a one-year contract with the KHL's Spartak Moscow, joining a legion of former NHL talents to leave for Russia while embroiled in controversy — in Virtanen's case, serious allegations of sexual assault.
In court back in June, Virtanen denied allegations that he assaulted a woman in a hotel in West Vancouver in September of 2017, ignoring "pleads" for him to stop. He stated in the court document that the pair had consensual sex, denying the woman "expressed any indication, verbal or physical, that she did not want to engage in physical activity."
The Canucks placed Virtanen on leave in light of the allegations and prior to the case heading to Vancouver court. He was later bought out of the final season on his current two-year contract, which freed him up as a potential asset to the NHL's other 31 teams.
Ultimately the former sixth-overall selection had to settle for a move to the KHL.
NHL assets with reasonable profiles have a history of landing in Russia in large part due to off-ice issues, and in several cases rather reprehensible ones. Most notably, former Flames head coach Bill Peters was hired by Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg months after allegations of racist and discriminatory behaviour forced his exit from Calgary. Former NHL forward Brendan Leipsic also re-surfaced in Russia after disparaging comments made in a private chat on social media were spread publicly about teammates, opponents, and players' wives and girlfriends. Coincidently, Virtanen was one of several former teammates Leipsic targeted with hurtful comments.
Virtanen scored five goals and didn't register an assist in 38 games with the Canucks last season. He totalled 100 points in 317 games across six seasons with the organization.
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