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Why a Vancouver Canucks Rebuild Depends on J.T. Miller

The possibility of a Vancouver Canucks rebuild comes down to one decision. And yes, it’s the one you think it is. The Canucks have a massive decision to make on one player.

Lots of Possible Looks for a Vancouver Canucks Rebuild

Questions Going Forward

There are questions the Vancouver Canucks will need to answer soon, but they all start in the same place. Can they afford to lose any of their core players to reinforce the rest of the team? As shown in the surprisingly hardline stance with Bruce Boudreau‘s possible extension and the trade of Tyler Motte, Patik Allvin isn’t afraid to stick to a plan. Unfortunately for us observers, we don’t know what that plan is just yet.

That’s not inherently a bad thing, of course. Having a plan doesn’t mean sharing it with the world, no matter how much we ask. But there are obvious bricks to pull with this Jenga game. What happens later is going to depend on what happens sooner. The pressure points of the next season’s salary cap has the entry draft before it which has the flashing BROCK BOESER sign in front of that. That dang sign is awful distracting, too. The deadline for qualifying offers is actually after the draft this year, but the team isn’t going to wait that long. They may take him to team-selected arbitration on July 2nd, but no one wants that.

And, of course, at any time a decision might get reached on an extension for J.T. Miller. The team and player can’t officially negotiate with each other just yet, but you have to know unofficial talks are well underway.

The Ones They Tell You Not to Worry About

Funny story. Once upon a time, there was an idea that since the Canucks only had one major player with an expiring contract, the 2022 offseason was going to be a breeze. One deal to do, everything else certain. No problem. But what’s Vancouver without the drama? Making a decision on Boeser, and how much of a part he’ll play in the upcoming Vancouver Canucks rebuild, is a big deal. Not just in the massive $7.5 million qualifying offer, either.

But other parts of the plan are relatively smooth sailing. Getting Elias Pettersson signed for three years, Quinn Hughes for seven, and Conor Garland in for five is very calming. That Thatcher Demko is on one of the best value deals in the league for another five seasons is marvellous!

Miller reaching 99 points is an issue going forward. He’s awesome, sure. But has also been wildly underpaid for the results he’s provided for the team. And it would be no surprise if he wants to make up for it all on this deal coming up. That he and Bo Horvat are expiring in the same season doesn’t help matters. They can both negotiate contracts this year, and probably will.

Horvat’s good value – Horvat’s always good value – and is an excellent leader for the team. But one player doesn’t lead a team alone, and that’s where Miller’s value has skyrocketed.

Can’t Retool Without a Toolbox

While Horvat can likely get a small raise and still maintain his value on a longer deal, what is Miller worth? Based on his production alone this season, he’s a $10 million man. But it’s also really easy to picture that production being a peak year. He is a physical player, and while he’s done well with Vancouver, how can he maintain anything like a point-per-game pace? It sure won’t be for eight years. Unfortunately, the salary cap is a real thing and puts serious limits on carrying any big-money deal into the next decade.

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He’s great right now and will be for a few years yet. But will he be better than Pettersson in four years? Probably not. He does, however, add more than just scoring. There is an enthusiasm and very vocal drive that a team needs. He is unquestionably a leader on the ice and has been during his stay. Any kind of Vancouver Canucks rebuild should look to include him – if they can.

Miller can certainly look at other teams and ask for a big number. He’s absolutely in his right to do so. But if he does so in NHL Free Agency, that number might be for three or four years, not six or seven. Few players peak beyond their 30th birthday, and that’s not far off. Finding a good team, or one better than Vancouver, that has the room for such a deal is nearly impossible. And that’s if they want to take the risk. So he might get a three-year, $30 million contract and bet on himself. Then what?

You Get A Contract! And You Get A Contract!

The Canucks have advantages on their side of the negotiations, though. That he’s a leader in Vancouver with ice time everywhere is a fairly minor one. Assume any team getting him has seen what he can do and is willing to give him the opportunity. It would be a waste of their investment otherwise. Now, with another team he might not get 21 minutes a night, but he won’t be far off.

What he could get, however, is stability. Cover your ears if it’s a sensitive topic, but a no-trade clause could go a long way to getting his name on a contract. The biggest hurdle for a Vancouver Canucks rebuild is the salary cap in the short term. They simply can’t afford to fit in an $8 million two years from now. Not if they want to improve the team in the ways it needs to improve. Yes, the cap will eventually go up, and by more than the paltry $1 million for 2022-23. So you know what they might be able to afford in five or six years?

A third-line player making $7 million. Even if he used to be a 99-point guy, but isn’t any longer. Especially if when he was a top-six guy, that let younger players develop under him until they started earning second contracts. And it leaves room for a younger superstar who is getting 100-point seasons to sign a big-number deal.

No One Wins With Youth Alone

Would he take a $7×7 deal? Maybe. That’s $49 million total and no need to contract-hunt in three years. If he made $30 million over three years, he’d still need to negotiate a new deal when it was done. What does a 33-year-old make? It varies – a LOT. If he gets another deal, how long will it be for? Not a whole lot of players are getting $7 million at age 35. Will he get injured between now and then? He might make more than $49 million between now and his 38th birthday. But “guaranteed” always sounds better than “might” doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, he can continue to be part of a team that gave him that put him in a leadership role. This is where he came within touching distance of a 100-point season, something unimaginable during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning or with the New York Rangers. Sure, if his boxcar numbers decline he’ll be overpaid for the last few seasons of such a deal. But he’s already been underpaid on his current deal. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll learn to play better defence by then. Win-win!

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