The spectre of a J.T. Miller trade has risen amidst a career season for the veteran forward. Can the Vancouver Canucks get value for him? And should they even try?
Finding Present Value for the Future
This has been an eventful season for the Vancouver Canucks. An awful start to the season led to a change in coach and management. The new coach started with a nine-game point streak. COVID-19 interrupted the scheduling again. Reality hit with a crash for three games against the league’s top teams before they finished their road trip with two wins. Their star centre wasn’t shining all that brightly until those two games as well. An extended search for the new general manager that the new Canucks president can mentor.
What does it all add up to? Unfortunately for the team and their fans, probably not a playoff spot. There’s still a chance, and it’s a much better one than at the beginning of December! But realistically the chaotic stew that is the Pacific Division has a lot of ingredients going, and the Canucks are starting from the bottom of the pot. If the objective is to win the Stanley Cup – and if it isn’t, why are we here? – then it won’t be this season. Or next.
Making Plans Means Making Moves
Jim Rutherford loves trades. He makes big swings at big times and recognizes when his team is primed for a run and when they aren’t. Of course, it helps when you have two of the best players on the planet. Then again, if that’s all it took to build a winning team, the Edmonton Oilers would have two more championship banners from the last five seasons.
But Rutherford isn’t the Canucks general manager. His “big move” so far has been conducting interviews and watching the team to see who he has. Given the upswing the team was on just through a coaching change, that seems wisest. It also means that the interviews he’s conducting include one question: “Do you think this team will be better served by making the playoffs now or later?”
Any early moves the new GM makes will have a LOT of input from Rutherford, make no mistake. But he seems content to wait until there is a general manager in place before a deal happens. The biggest barrier in the way of a major deal going down is how little value the Canucks actually have that they would want to part with. Or not even “wanting” to part with so much as finding a market where a trade makes sense. One of the few pieces the Canucks could move and expect a solid return is forward J.T. Miller.
No Miller Trade
The easiest scenario is to not move Miller at all. He has never been more valuable than he is right now, and that’s not just on the market but to the Canucks themselves. His move from the Tampa Bay Lightning gave him more ice time, more importance, and more opportunity. He’s grown into a leadership role in Vancouver to go with a huge leap in scoring. He was a very good player with the New York Rangers and the Lightning. What he wasn’t was a point-per-game, 21-minutes player he’s been on the Canucks. And if F-bombs/60 were a stat, he’d be leading there, too.
The Canucks are in the middle of a push to reach the playoffs this season. The year’s horrendous start has been mitigated by an excellent second quarter. Even the NHL schedule maker gave the team a break this year, amazingly enough. The teams the Canucks face may be better in the second half than in the first, but they’ll have a few more at home and some breaks between them. There are few back-to-backs remaining, even with the tightened schedule.
If they want to make the playoffs this year, there are few points but a pile-up of teams in the way. Carrying their scoring leader into the battle with them only makes sense. With a better start this season they’d be solidly in a playoff position right now. There’s no reason to think that a better start won’t happen in 2022-23.
Post-Season Miller Trade
Whether the team makes it or not, changes have to happen. Their chances are not great right now, and if they miss, there’s only so much room left to improve. Miller’s contract is, by the way, excellent: he’s been full value for his $5.25 million per year, but the actual cash payout next year? It goes DOWN! That cash drops from $6 million to $4.5 million, and how awesome is that? So why on Earth would management force through a J.T. Miller trade?
Because good rookies – or anyone else on their first deal – have even better value. And a Miller trade could definitely bring that back. Assuming that the team looks over the Canucks and decides three years or so would be a good time frame to peak, then Miller would need a new deal. If you look at his stats from his time in Vancouver, you know he’s going to be asking for a whole lot more than his current high-value deal. And for more than a couple of years. And he’ll have earned it.
He’s also going to be 30 when his current deal expires in 2022-23. The odds of his play declining dramatically in the next two years is low. But in the five – or six, or seven – after that? Add Brock Boeser‘s deal expiring this year and Bo Horvat‘s the year after and it gets complicated. Moving Miller to a team more ready to challenge can bring back young players and picks. And doing it in the off-season still keeps him around for the playoff push.
Pre-Deadline Miller Trade
Sell high. Buy low. And after his six goals and 18 points in 17 game playoff run in 2019-20, a J.T. Miller trade that includes the second season is the most valuable one. Any team picking Miller up at or before this trade deadline has him for this year’s playoffs and the next. Unless, of course, they move him at next season’s trade deadline. Get him now, and they’ll have the option. His versatility is an added feature, moving from centre to wing as needed. And given the COVID-19 protocols could last all season, that’s not a small benefit.
The only catch to making a move like this is it’s going to be a club that wants to keep their team together. They have a playoff run (or two) to make, and they don’t want to disrupt chemistry. Again, that’s okay given the Canucks are looking a few years down the road. Target, say, the Minnesota Wild and try to make a deal around the nearly-ready Calen Addison. Or the Nashville Predators for, say, Luke Prokop and useful forward Tanner Jeannot. First-round picks can come back to Vancouver in both those cases with them being nowhere near the top-20.
What the Canucks Should Do
So long as something that will help for the long-term is the return – the picks – then taking a chance on a young player isn’t a bad move. Someone like Prokop may not even make the league, but it’s a reduced risk with an NHL player coming, too. The Canucks need help everywhere, including restocking their draft slots. They can afford to be flexible on the return, and that increases their potential trade partners. You have to give to get, and a Miller trade would – should – get a lot.
It’s easy to see the other side, too. Miller is a fan favourite, and for good reason. He is a fantastically hard worker, a blast to watch, and his skills have really blossomed here. The Canucks are in hard to make the playoffs this year, but next is well within the realm of possibility. He’s at a great price point if that’s the deciding factor. What makes every team in the league interested in him is exactly what could keep him in Vancouver.
Even so, in our opinion, the best chance the Canucks have is moving him out. When that will happen or whether it does at all is going to be decided after their next big announcement.