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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Head-to-Head: The Canucks keeping Brock Boeser versus keeping J.T. Miller

It’s been suggested by many that the Vancouver Canucks are approaching a tough decision as it pertains to two of their most talented forwards.

Brock Boeser will need a new contract this offseason, and JT Miller will need one in the summer of 2023. Despite the Canucks’ current cap constraints and the fact that both individuals have earned a raise of some sort, there’s still a chance that they could fit both of them under the salary cap, but doing so would leave them with little-to-no space left for improvements elsewhere on the roster.

And, so, yes, it may very well come down to Keeping Brock Boeser versus Keeping JT Miller. But what’s the right answer?

In this article, we’ll go over all of the factors that Jim Rutherford and Co. will ponder as they make this decision, and weigh in ourselves on which player has the advantage.*

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*Note: “Advantage: Boeser” means that this particular factor should tip the Canucks in favour of keeping Boeser over Miller. “Advantage: Miller” means the opposite. You should be able to figure out what “Draw” means.

Better Player Right Now

This first one is a relatively easy call. While both Boeser and Miller have been racking up points since Bruce Boudreau took over, Miller has been producing more, and he’s been doing it all year. As of this writing, Miller sits in a tie for 16th place in NHL scoring. Boeser has yet to crack the top-150, although he’ll almost certainly be there before the season is through.

Combine that production disparity with Miller’s more multifaceted play, his driving of play, and his ability to play every forward position, and there’s little doubt as to who is the better player in the present day.

Advantage: Miller

Next Contract’s Salary

This entry is heavily-related to the previous one, but has an inverse effect. Miller’s PPG production over the past few seasons has put him in line for a major pay-day as he approaches UFA status in 2023. So long as he can maintain something approaching this pace through 2022/23, he’ll be signing a contract with a cap hit that starts with a “$9.”

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Boeser, on the other hand, has inconsistency, injury, and RFA status weighing down his potential earnings. Depending on how the rest of this season plays out, he should still get a raise of some sort, but probably one somewhere in the range of $1 million, leaving him with a cap hit in the neighbourhood of $7 million – unless, of course, he takes his $7.5 million qualifying offer. Even then, he’d still have a lower cap hit than Miller.

Advantage: Boeser

Next Contract’s Term

On this front, Boeser has options. If he’s seeking security, he could ask for an eight-year deal, but doing so would cost him a little salary, and might hurt his earnings on his next contract. Chances are better that he’ll sign something between four and six years, setting himself up for at least one more long-term deal before his career is through.

Miller, however, will be 30 years old by the time his next contract is signed, so he does not have the luxury of skimping on term. He’s got to be aware that he’s at or nearing the peak of his performance, and the wise move would be to cash in for as long as possible. He’d love eight years from the Canucks, and if he can’t get it, he’ll happily take seven years from someone else.

Advantage: Boeser

Team Contract Control

Here’s perhaps the easiest call of the article.

Boeser will be a restricted free agent this summer, albeit one who needs a $7.5 million qualifying offer in order to retain his rights.

Miller becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023.

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That means that the Canucks have a certain amount of contract control over Boeser than they do over Miller. What that really means, however, is that the Canucks will have to be very careful if they decide to trade one of the two.

Trade Miller, and you’ve at least got some certainty that you’ll be able to keep Boeser under contract.

Trade Boeser before Miller signs an extension, however, and you run the risk of Miller walking as a UFA and then having neither of them.

Advantage: Boeser

Better Player Over The Course Of Their Next Contract

Things get a little tougher to call from here on out.

The smart money is on Boeser being the better player over the course of their next contracts. He’s four years younger, still firmly within his prime, and has been playing his best hockey under Boudreau.

That said, Miller has the head-start right now, and there’s no guarantee that Boeser ever catches up – or that Miller ever slows down. Miller’s career trajectory, which has him setting new career highs at age 28, is already atypical. He might just be one of those players who stays productive well into his 30s.

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It’s a question of how much more Boeser advances, how much Miller drops off, and where those two paths eventually intersect, if they ever do at all.

We’ll be a touch cowardly on this one, and default to “Que Sera, Sera.” The future’s not ours to see, and this one could go either way.

Draw

Versatility

Getting more specific, here’s a factor that seems custom-built for Miller. He can play any forward position, and play them well. He’s arguably a first line center AND a first line winger, and how many players in the league can claim the same? Miller has spent time on lines one-through-three, and found success with a wide variety of linemates.

Boeser, too, has found success with multiple linemates, but he is what he is: a scoring right winger. That’s all he will ever be, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s definitely not versatile.

Advantage: Miller

Core Fit

Aside from these two, the Canucks’ core consists of Quinn Hughes (22), Elias Pettersson (23), Thatcher Demko (26), Bo Horvat (26), and Conor Garland (25). If one wanted to, they could throw Nils Höglander (21) and Vasily Podkolzin (20) into the mix.

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At 28-going-on-29, Miller isn’t too old for this core by any means. But the 24-year-old Boeser is obviously the better fit to continue to grow alongside this core, and to hit his prime years at around the same time as the rest of them.

Advantage: Boeser

Replaceability

Miller is such a unique player, that replacing him would be a truly difficult task. There are other centers who can cover his pivot duties, and other wingers who can cover his duties there, but no single player could do both. Replacing Miller on the roster would be something done by committee, and that rarely works out well.

Boeser isn’t easily replaceable, either, but doing so is at least more realistic. Both Höglander and Podkolzin show the potential to become about as potent from the right wing as Boeser is now – and even if they don’t get there, at least there are still two of them.
Outside the team, scoring wingers are also easier to acquire than Miller-types.

Advantage: Miller

Leadership

Well, which one of these players is wearing a letter on their chest?

Miller’s abrasive style might rub some the wrong way, but there’s no denying that he’s been a vocal leader of the Canucks since arriving in Vancouver, and has continued to grow into a more prominent leadership role. When something needs to be said publicly, it’s often Miller leading the charge. When the team needs a spark on the ice, Miller is the one to provide it.

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Boeser, conversely, is a quiet, contemplative, and complementary personality. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – not everyone on a team can be a leader – but it makes this category a cake-walk for Miller.

Advantage: Miller

Intangibles/Character

Both Miller and Boeser have a reputation of being high-character individuals, but how they achieved that reputation could not be more different.

Boeser is, and always has been, an A+ human being. Stories of his kindness and generosity have followed him since high school, and he reads as someone who is universally beloved by his teammates. Dressing room drama is never going to center around Boeser. He’s just not that kind of guy.

Miller, on the other hand, is exactly the type to draw dressing room controversy, but that’s not necessarily a strike against his character. Miller is a fiery competitor who demands the best of himself and his teammates, and who isn’t afraid to lead by example. When a teammate needs standing up to or for, Miller is happy to do so.

Intangibles are, by their very nature, unmeasurable. But even if they were, we have a feeling that this one would come out relatively even.

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Draw

Defensive Game

Neither Miller nor Boeser are ever going to be nominated for a Selke Trophy, but neither of them are poor defensive players.

Neither matches up against opposing top lines terribly regularly, but both have reasonable results when they do.

Miller kills penalties, and Boeser does not.

Boeser has an underrated ability to win board battles and intercept passes with his stick. Miller’s defensive game is decidedly more physical.

Both are probably guilty of an inconsistent effort in their own end, but Miller’s lapses are more noticeable.

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This one might be too close to call.

Draw

Playoff-Ready Game

In terms of playoff production, Boeser and Miller have remarkably similar PPGs. But there’s really no two ways about it: Miller is the superior postseason player.

Much of Miller’s questionable playoff performance came before he arrived in Vancouver. In his one playoff run with the Canucks, Miller put up 18 points in 17 games. Boeser put up 11 points on that same run.

Miller’s hard-driving, hard-hitting, in-your-face style is also a perfect fit for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the whistles get put away and willingness to play dirty becomes an advantage.

If you’re picking from the two of them for a seven-game series, you take Miller ten times out of ten, and don’t think too hard about it.

Advantage: Miller

Potential Trade Return

If you skip right to the bottom of this section, you might be shocked to see “Advantage: Boeser.” But what that means is that Miller would return the greater package than Boeser, and thus the Canucks would be rewarded more by trading Miller and keeping Boeser.

Both players should return a first round pick and a premium prospect at a bare minimum. But Miller, as he exists right now, would be the most sought-after player in the NHL at either this Trade Deadline, or the next one. The bidding on him, if he gets put on the block, should get downright silly.

Again, however, that only makes it all the more likely that he’s the one shipped out of town.

Advantage: Boeser

Conclusion

If we were just tallying up their records in this thought exercise, it goes 5-4-3 in favour of Miller.

But this collection of factors isn’t exhaustive, nor do all of them carry equal weight.

If salary were not a factor, Miller would be the clear-cut choice. If age were not a factor, Miller would be the clear-cut choice.

But salary and age are absolutely factors, and important ones at that.

Are they enough to tip the Canucks in the direction of keeping Boeser over Miller? And if not, is the fact that the Canucks could acquire more and better assets by trading Miller enough to make up the difference?

At this exact juncture, we’re going to leave it at “too close to call.” The coming months will weigh heavily on the eventual decision, and a lot could change between now and the 2022 offseason.

Chances are good, though, that you’ve got an opinion on this one way or another. Sound off in the comments about which of the two you’d keep, and on any important factors that you thought we missed.