In the midst of a wonderful Canucks run full of chants, wins, and renewed hope, the future of some of the club’s key players still lingers. The biggest question mark may surround the Canucks’ best forward this season, JT Miller.
Miller is 28 years old, has one year remaining on a team-friendly deal after this season, and with the numbers he’s put up in the last two and a half seasons he will certainly be expecting a raise, whether that be in Vancouver or elsewhere. Now the Canucks have to decide whether or not they should try to capitalize on him as a trade asset now while the return would likely be more than next season’s deadline, or re-sign by the time his contract expires next year.
There are a lot of reasons the Canucks may want to keep him, as they obviously don’t have somebody to step in and fill his role immediately, but the better long-term option could be moving him at what is likely his peak value.
One thing we are still unaware of is what Jim Rutherford plans to do with the team moving forward, and a lot of that depends on how the Canucks play leading up to the trade deadline. Despite getting themselves back into the playoff conversation, the Canucks still need to play at a high level for the rest of the season, not just a 9-game stretch, and the next few years could hinge on how the team does in those games. Another wrinkle has been the amount of postponed games the Canucks have had, making it a bit tougher for Rutherford and co. to evaluate the roster properly before the deadline, though that date is still a couple months away on March 21st.
Complications aside, if Rutherford does decide that the team is a few years away from being truly competitive than they should be exploring trading Miller sooner rather than later to capitalize on where his current value is at.
Benefits of trading Miller
Value has never been higher
Miller is a coach’s delight. He plays with a passion in all situations, is a leader in the dressing room, and is one of those players that can “drag a team into the fight”. On top of that, he was productive with the Canucks last year and early this season when they were struggling, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see his point totals rise on a team with star players that are playing at a higher level than the core of the Canucks are right now.
It is hard to put a value on what Miller may get in a trade, but I do think it would at least start with a first round pick and elite prospect or young player. It may be close to what the Sabres got in return for Jack Eichel just based on the uncertainty that surrounded Eichel’s injury and the contract that came with him, whereas Miller would be almost half as expensive until the end of next season. Also, I would expect the Canucks to get more of a return if they did move him this year as opposed to next, giving the acquiring team two chances at going on a run before Miller’s deal is up, which is why it’s so important to move him by this deadline if they don’t plan on re-signing him.
Provides a clear direction
The Canucks have been in what I like to call a “Minnesota-like state” for the past few years – good enough to just make the playoffs but not go on a run, and not bad enough to bottom out. Obviously, I don’t think the Canucks are in a position to bottom out anymore, nor should they be trying to with players like Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, and hopefully Pettersson entering their prime.
Trading Miller would signal that the Canucks are acknowledging that their window to compete isn’t entirely open yet. If the package they got in return for Miller was headlined by a player in their early 20’s, it would provide a bit of a clearer direction on when the Canucks plan to be competitive. That doesn’t mean Miller won’t be an effective player into his 30’s, but of course a younger player has the potential to be impactful for a longer time.
Potentially lengthens your competitive window
That leads into the question, when do the Canucks plan to be competitive enough to win a Stanley Cup? The goal can’t be to just be good enough to make the playoffs and go on a lucky run, which seemed to be the plan under the previous management regime. If the Canucks can get a solid return for Miller and have those picks/prospects work (if that is what they get in return) that could go a long way in adding depth to more areas of the lineup, especially if one of the returning pieces is a right-handed defenceman. Trading Miller leaves a sizeable hole to fill on the forward front, which is why the Canucks would likely need multiple pieces coming back, but I do think one of the pieces would need to have an immediate impact.
Frees up future cap space
The Canucks are going to be in a bit of a tough situation over the next couple years with Miller, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and a few other young pieces all needing new contracts. Miller would likely be the most expensive out of all of the expiring deals, so trading him may help the Canucks retain one or two other players.
Benefits of keeping Miller
You don’t lose your most impactful player
Aside from Demko and maybe Hughes, it’s hard to argue that any Canucks player has been better than JT Miller this season. Losing someone like that from the roster could leave a hole that they aren’t able to fill, regardless of return. If players like Pettersson and Boeser were their usual selves this year it might make more sense for the Canucks to move Miller, but it’s hard to expect anything besides a steep drop off for the team if he gets moved.
They can move on from someone else
The other player with an expiring contract next season is Horvat, who doesn’t seem to have his name come up quite as often when people think of who the Canucks might trade. Since moving to Vancouver, Miller has totalled more goals, assists, power play points, and essentially leads Horvat in most impactful advanced stats areas as well. Horvat has a slight edge defensively and in the age category, but overall Miller has just been the better player.
There is the option of trading both, but that would likely set the Canucks back more than a few years unless every single piece they get in return hits.
I do wonder how much stock is being put into who has the “C” on their chest, and if that plays a part in who the market deems as expendable. It does matter, but when it comes down to it, is Horvat any more of a leader in the locker room than Miller?
Keeping a leader
It’s no secret that the Canucks have lost a lot of leadership lately and it has seemed to have an impact on the team in the last year and a half. Losing players like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, and others has left a mark on the team and is one of the major stains on Jim Benning’s tenure in Vancouver. Losing somebody like Miller would not be the best foot for Rutherford and whoever is hired as GM to start on, especially as they try to gain the trust of the younger core players.
Have the opportunity to compete sooner
If the Canucks do plan on being competitive in the next few years Miller would be a key piece of that. Of course, it would take a lot of creativity and luck to fill out the rest of the roster to be close to Stanley Cup conversation. That being said, a lot of the pieces like Demko, Hughes, and Pettersson are at the age where they should be competitive annually, so keeping Miller and planning on growing incrementally over the next few years might be the best course of action.
If it was up to me, I would be trading Miller at the deadline this year. The Canucks are likely still a few years away from really competing, and moving Miller could be the key move to shore up other areas of need on the roster for 2-3 years down the road. Obviously, It is a big risk any time a team trades someone as impactful as Miller, and often the team trading away an elite player doesn’t win the deal, but it may be a risk the Canucks need to take to give themselves the best chance to win in the long-term.