Canucks claim Brandon McMillan off of waivers

The Vancouver Canucks have put in a waiver claim on forward Brandon McMillan, most recently of the Arizona Coyotes, the club announced on Thursday.

McMillan, 24, hails from Delta, B.C., and has spent the early years of his hockey career bouncing between the American Hockey League and the NHL. This season he’s been a mainstay with the goaltending challenged Coyotes managing a goal and two assists in 50 games. He’s also been a minus-19, but such is life playing in front of Mike Smith this season.

Read on for more.

There’s some context we should chew over before proceeding to analyze what McMillan’s track record tells us about his abilities. In particular, McMillan and the Coyotes avoided arbitration this past summer by agreeing to an interesting one-year contract, two-way contract

From the structure of McMillan’s contract – which carries an elevated AHL salary – we can infer that McMillan and his representatives opted to accept a lower NHL salary in exchange for the security of a higher salary at the AHL level. Based on the way McMillan has bounced between leagues, that seems sensible.

In terms of the contract’s details, McMillan’s deal pays him $625,000 at the NHL level and his AHL salary is set at $100,000. (A side note: news of the McMillan signing, and his contract details were originally reported by Capgeek.com). 

Why might McMillan’s AHL salary level matter for Vancouver? Well with a move of this sort, we have to consider that the Utica Comets have been operating all season – from the Keith Acton trade, to the Andrey Pedan deal – like a team keen on making a Calder Cup trophy run this spring. 

On the margins, McMillan’s relatively high AHL salary makes him easier to sneak through waivers, and it’s possible that the Canucks have picked him up with that in mind. 

Or perhaps they’re just looking for some additional forward depth. McMillan is often listed as a centre and a winger, but he hasn’t taken many draws during his time with the Coyotes. In terms of his on-ice results, they look ghastly this season (especially that ugly plus/minus number), but that’s largely percentage driven. 

Offensively speaking there isn’t much to write home about. McMillan’s AHL stats are unspectacular, and he’s scored at a replacement level rate at 5-on-5 in his 162 games in the NHL. 

In terms of his two-way game, McMillan probably isn’t a decent bet to be more than a fourth-line player. By shot attempt differential the Coyotes have been bleeding shot attempts against with McMillan on the ice at evens this season, although that’s likely a product – to some extent – of him being buried in the defensive zone in terms of his territorial deployment. The year prior – when he shared the ice with the likes of Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan during a short stint with the Coyotes – he was among Arizona’s best forwards by the underlying numbers.

There are some things in the underlying data that might suggest that McMillan has some untapped potential, albeit in a bottom-of-the-roster type way. He’s drawn penalties at a very high rate, which generally suggests that a player is regularly getting position on defenders. He’s also improved the shot attempt differentials of three of the five forwards with whom he’s spent at least 100 5-on-5 minutes skating alongside over the past three years. It isn’t much, but if you squint you might find some reason to believe that he could be a useful bottom of the roster piece.

Overall McMillan is what you’d expect from a waiver pickup: he could help the fourth-line, but he shouldn’t be counted on to do so. He’d surely help the Utica Comets though, if the Canucks can sneak him and his relatively high AHL salary through waivers before the Calder Cup playoffs. 

The final angle here: we’ll have to hope that the acquisition of McMillan doesn’t reflect the health status of either Nick Bonino or Brad Richardson – both of whom have recently been spotted in walking boots. 

  • Mantastic

    it makes no sense why they would acquire McMillan for the AHL, especially seeing that his AHL numbers are bad. there are much better AHL vets out there that can be acquired for next to nothing.

  • Mantastic

    If the goal was to boost AHL centre depth, then this is a no risk claim. If they get him, great – send him to Utica. If they lose him on waivers when they try to send him down – there’s no impact on either AHL or NHL roster.

    I have to agree with the philosophy that prospects should be brought up in a winning team culture that begins with the farm team. If you look at the Utica roster, Dustin Jeffrey and Cal O’Reilly have been their top players forwards (centres) all year – great offseason signings/re-signings by Benning. However, centre depth drops significantly after those two (i.e. Acton, Hamilton, Friesen). On paper, he appears to be a good third line defensive centre to back up two scoring centres.

    • Mantastic

      it does if you consider the 50 contract limit every club has… and waiving a claimed player to play for your AHL team when PHX can assign him to Portland if he plays under 10 games…

      • Spiel

        Understood, but if Utica is going for a play-off run and using McMillan as a “rental”, it can’t hurt if the Canucks have a spare contract slot. Remember, McMillan is an RFA after this season so they can let him walk at the end of the season, thus freeing up that contract slot in the off-season.

        Sadly, Capgeek is no more so I can’t get an accurate read on the number of contracts left with the Canucks but Tommernes just left recently so there is at least one contract slot up for grabs.

        • Mantastic

          but there are much better AHL “rentals” available, as AHL vets are a dime a dozen and AHL teams have a limited amount of roster spots for said AHL vets. it’s a poor strategy to be acquiring AHL talent over NHL talent when you are on the playoff bubble and further hindering your ability to make NHL trades by taking a contract slot for a worthless player.

          • Mantastic

            I’m aware of the AHL veteran rule and the 50 contract limit – I’m pretty sure Benning is also aware of it too. If there was a better AHL option, I’m sure he would have tried to sign an available player to an AHL contract.

            I think it would be safe to say that we both want the Canucks to be a better team although we differ on the value of the McMillan claim.

            In terms of roster limitations, I think that the bigger concern is the salary cap as the Canucks have virtually no room (assuming you requalify all of your current roster [except Sestito] and give Tanev his much deserved pay raise). If Benning wants to improve the NHL roster, he’s likely going to have to shed salary and the associated contract slot.

          • Mantastic

            It’s going to take some very unpopular choices to shed salary. Sedins 7M ea, Vrbata 5M, Burrows 4.5M, Edler 5M. Bieksa and Hamius 4.6M, and Miller 6M. Nostalgia runs deep with Canucks fans and trading away any one of those players (with the exception of Miller and Vrbata) will draw the ire of the entire fan base. Some tough decisions lay ahead.

          • acg5151

            Not sure why we want to trade those players when we may just make a playoff run with them. As the cap goes up next year, we will have more cap room and we will have more rookies that won’t cost against the cap coming in in the next few years.

          • Dirty30

            Unpopular choices? Myself and many others would relish moving some of those players. If it was a smart trade (I think Benning would make a good trade) then have at it. Deal some of those guys. I can’t see the Sedins and Bieksa waiving the NTC and the others may not either.

            I am tired of this core. They’re barely a playoff team and I doubt they advance beyond the first round. I’m in favor of any move that brings us young talent back in return. Have to give up something to get something.

  • nucksandbolts

    I feel there could definitely be some usage and deployment weighting in his underlying numbers this year. When you check out his Usage Adjusted numbers (thanks to @mimicohero), he is actually a first liner in corsi against/60. Not very good offensively, but a decent possession player is what his HERO graph seems to tell me.

  • Mantastic

    nhlnumbers.com is showing 52 contracts without McMillan so something is not quite right there. Regardless, the Canucks are probably now at their 50-contract limit.

  • Dirty30

    I was going to add some levity by suggesting GMJB was going to trade this guy to Toronto for Kessel … But then realized they might actually take that offer …. ?