J.T. Miller‘s name is a hot one right now, and if the Vancouver Canucks keep Miller then it will be for at least another year.
Canucks Keep JT Miller, Win Internet
Okay, probably not. But that says more about Canucks Twitter than it does the team itself. Everybody has talked about moving J.T. Miller – us included – because of how obvious it is. If you’re going to sell, sell high. And the odds of his value increasing beyond this point are vanishingly slim. His reputation may still be stuck in the Eastern Conference to when he played there but for anyone who’s looked? He’s excellent.
Legitimately so, too. He’s not only Vancouver’s leading scorer, he’s top-20 in the league. He plays any forward position, both special teams, and is a very vocal leader on and off the ice. And it just gets better from there! His contract (h/t to CapFriendly) is as good a bargain as you’ll find for a player not on his rookie deal. He’s signed through the 2022-23 season. The $5.25 million cap hit has an actual payout of $4.5 million next year. He’s rarely injured despite a lively playing style. Why on Earth would anyone trade him away?
In Vancouver’s case, there a couple reasons. First is that they have holes on the team as it stands now. While the fourth lie is sorting itself out, there are still problems with forward depth and the defence. Prospect depth is minimal. They’re short a draft pick this year and have traded several away. They have negative salary cap space. Most of those flaws can be repaired with one move, costly though that move is. Plus Miller himself is going to be looking for a deal more commensurate with his hugely improved numbers when this contract ends. So why on Earth would anyone keep him? Let’s explore.
Work It, Work It
If the Canucks keep Miller, it will be for more than one season. The team can’t talk about a new contract with his agent until this Summer, of course, so obviously no negotiations have happened there.* But if they had approached him or his agent and implied they really want him to stick around, those negotiations might be surprisingly easy. Miller’s deal expires when he is 30 years old, and that’s a frightening number for professional athletes. It’s perfectly reasonable for Miller to seek out his best possible deal while he’s playing the best hockey of his career. Vancouver has an advantage there, being able to offer an eight year deal where other teams can only offer seven.
But “eight” and “seven” are nearly as frightening numbers to owners as “30” is to athletes.
Still, it’s an advantage that Vancouver has. They have core elements signed for the next few years and others are tied in my no movement clauses. As for those parts signed but slightly expensive, well… It’s a time for hard decisions, and one of those can be keeping Miller at the expense of other parts. Such a decision will mean taking a hit on unfavourable deals like that of Tyler Myers, Jason Dickinson or Travis Hamonic. That won’t win a lot of friends among the fans if moving them includes losing draft picks, but gaining cap space costs. It also likely means losing a good player to fit Miller in. There aren’t a whole lot of options, and all of them are younger than Miller is, but that’s the trade-off.
Let’s Make a Deal
The other half to making any deal with a player is what the player wants. If Miller wants to stay in Vancouver, Vancouver should try to keep him – assuming they can get everything else around him done. He, obviously enough, wants to make as much money he can. He also wants to play for a successful team. And have job security, if that’s not too much to ask. And that last might be the best point of compromise between the two sides.
A quick glance at Vancouver’s contract situation should be plenty of warning about handing out clauses. But those come because the player wants control. To be clear, it’s not the player’s fault if the team agrees to it. And it’s usually a valuable to bargain for. In the case of Miller, this is where his greatest personal success has come from. He had never broken 60 points in a season before arriving in Vancouver. With the Canucks he’s better than a point a game – including playoffs. He may well want to stay, especially if staying means REALLY staying – eight seasons, full no-trade clause. In return for that, his expectations on pay will have to come down. Way down.
Right now, he is easily an $8 million man, especially if he goes short-term. The odds of his play declining precipitously over the next three years is slight. This might be his peak, but his course so far isn’t likely leading to a cliff just yet. Five years, though? Or seven? He could still be a valuable contributor, but he’s not going to be a point-per-game guy. In the mean time, the Canucks will have to pay the young guys who are making noise in the boxcars.
Predicting the Future
The salary cap is going up. Someday. If the Canucks keep Miller, that is going to be part of the equation. Unfortunately, no one knows just how much the cap will move in coming years. Other contracts are going to need renegotiating over whatever deal Miller signs. Any team signing him to a long deal has to have that in mind, including Vancouver. If he wants to get as much as he can now, he may well pick up a three- or four-year deal at $8 million. But that might be the last big number he gets, especially if his scoring trails off or he picks up a couple injuries on the way. He may end up with a series of one-year deals for diminishing amounts, or he may simply decide he’s too tired to sign PTOs, thanks, and retires.
Would he rather have an eight-year, $40 million deal?
The Canucks would be banking on his value staying reasonably high – especially early when they want to press for the Stanley Cup – even as his skills diminish. They also need the salary cap to go up for all their other players fitting around Miller. He would be getting a guaranteed income, leaving some cap room for other stars to come up, and not have to pack five times in the next decade.
The Canucks keep Miller. Miller keeps getting paid until he’s nearly 40, his family in one location, and a spot on an improving team. That sounds pretty win-win.