9 reasons to hate the Canucks’ JT Miller extension
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
4 months ago
The wise master Yoda would have us believe that hate leads to suffering, and then inevitably to the dark side.
But that same Yoda is also always rattling on about “balance,” which leaves us in a bit of a tricky spot.
The day after JT Miller signed a seven-year, $56 million extension with the Vancouver Canucks, we published “9 reasons to LOVE the Canucks’ JT Miller extension,” an overly-positive take on the contract (that was almost entirely overshadowed by the fact that it accidentally implied that Henrik Sedin was not a true 1C).
Some folks liked the take, some did not. But either way, its publication left an imbalance in the Force that must be corrected.
So, today, we’ve got the critical thinking caps back on and cranked all the way up to maximum criticality, and we present “9 reasons to HATE the Canucks’ JT Miller extension.”
#1: Miller IS going to regress eventually, and this contract WILL NOT age well
We’ll start things off with the thing that almost everyone can seem to agree on, even those who are generally optimistic about this extension: Miller is going to regress eventually, and at least a few of the latter years of his contract are going to be painful.
Miller’s PPG has nearly doubled since coming to Vancouver. We’re not going to suggest that the improvement is a mirage or illegitimate in any way — Miller is, quite simply, a much better player in Vancouver than he was in New York or Tampa Bay. But for how long will that be true?
Miller will be 30 years old when his contract kicks in at the beginning of the 2023/24 season. Every year a player plays past their 30th birthday, the odds of them starting a regressive downward slide toward retirement increases.
It’s not universal and it’s never perfectly-timed. Some players continue to be productive well into their 30s. Henrik (a true 1C, remember) and Daniel Sedin are two examples. But the regression hits everyone eventually, and with each passing year, it’s more and more likely to hit.
Does Miller have another PPG season in him? Sure, probably. Two more? Why not. Three more? That’d be nice.
But by the time he hits age 33, he’s fighting against a near-statistical-certainty of some serious regression. Even the Sedins had dipped below PPG status by that point, and they’re the gold standard for Canucks aging well. One could also argue that, as a player without a career-long track record of this kind of production, the regression is even more likely to hit Miller sooner.
If the Canucks were to get good value out of Miller for the entirety of his extension, it would be a nearly-unprecedented miracle. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if they can make something happen during those first few, valuable years. Except…
#2: The Canucks are not currently contenders, and pretending that they are may lead to further bad decisions
If the clock is ticking on Miller’s productivity and the Canucks have firmly committed to him, there’s no avoiding it: the team is in win-now mode, and has to be.
The only problem is, the Canucks aren’t really built to win now.
Are the playoffs within reach? Arguably. With a full season of Bruce Boudreau’s coaching, the Canucks probably would have reached the postseason last year.
But take a look at the Colorado Avalanche. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes.
Anyone with an objective perspective can see that the Canucks are still several steps away from reaching the heights of a true contender.
Some believe that, with the current core in place, the Canucks are just two or three years away from being competitive. But with the Miller extension signed, it’s no longer a “maybe.” The Canucks NEED to get competitive within the next few seasons, or else they’ve wasted the most valuable years on the Miller extension.
And it’s never good when a team tries to force themselves into a level of contention they’re not ready for.
There’s a difference, for example, between waiting for the right opportunity to acquire a top-four RHD and needing to do that within the next couple of years or bust.
The Miller extension is, no doubt, a short-sighted decision. And that would be fine, if the Canucks had success in their short-term sight. They’re not there yet. But as they are now obligated to try to be, one can reasonably expect a few more short-sighted decisions in the immediate future.
If the Canucks go all-in, but end up folding anyway, what was the point?
#3: The Canucks don’t have the prospects required to supplement veteran contracts with ELCs (and a Miller trade was the best way to get some)
The Canucks have now become an extremely top-heavy team. Once Miller’s $8 million AAV hits the books next season, the Canucks will have more than $43 million (half of the salary cap) allocated to just six players. That number doesn’t even include a potential Bo Horvat extension, either.
Now, being top-heavy isn’t always a bad thing, but the only tried-and-tested way to be top-heavy and still competitive over the long term is via a steady influx of young talent on cheap, entry-level contracts.
Unfortunately, the Canucks’ prospect cupboard is still quite thin, and almost all of the incoming talent they do have is at the positions of least need (wing and LHD).
A Miller trade was probably the singular best method through which to restock the cupboard. That option is seemingly off the table now, but the need for prospects remains. Even continuing to draft well in the years to come might not be enough, as those players selected probably won’t be ready to join the team for a while.
Filling out a roster with cheap players is easy. Filling out a roster with cheap, quality players is the real trick, and the Canucks aren’t set up to do that.
#4: Miller is coming off a season buoyed by a leaguewide uptick in scoring and a boatload of secondary assists and power play points
Let’s not lose sight of the immediate plot here. Miller is coming off a season of 99 points, the most by any Canuck since those aforementioned Sedins. It was a great season, and Miller is a great player, who in the present moment is absolutely worth an $8 million AAV.
But what are the odds that last season was the absolute peak of Miller’s career?
Pretty good, actually.
Miller’s 99 points came in a season during which seemingly everyone had a career year. Eight different players cracked the 100-point threshold. Overall goals-per-game in the league were up to 3.14, a significant rise from the 2.94 of 2021/22 and the highest average since 1995/96.
In other words, it was an exceptionally good year for putting up big point totals.
Miller’s numbers, specifically, were also arguably a little bit inflated.
31 of Miller’s 99 points were secondary assists, the fifth-most in the entire league. Secondary assists are, of course, important, and having a bunch of them doesn’t necessarily say anything negative about Miller’s performance. But they’re a clear sign of Miller benefitting from the quality of his teammates to a certain degree.
The same can be said of his power play production. 38 of Miller’s 99 points came on the man advantage. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s definitely a testament to Miller’s importance to the Canucks’ special teams.
But power play points are, by their very nature, far more of a “team stat” than even-strength points.
What we’re really trying to say here is that Miller was just handed a contract as if he’s someone who scored 99 points entirely of his own accord, and as if he is someone who is likely to replicate that production for the next few seasons to come.
We’re not sure that’s the case.
#5: Miller is not great defensively, and his contract leaves fewer assets available to address the blueline
We predict that this will be the most controversial entry in the list.
By some measures, Miller is a fine defensive player. He does play more than the league-average against top-six competition, posts good possession numbers, and scores a lot more than he gets scored against. He’s a penalty killer, too.
Other, fancier analytic models raise some serious questions, however, and paint a picture of a player whose presence has a negative impact on the defensive performance of his linemates.
The eye-test tells its own tale, what with Miller’s frequent giveaway gaffes and visibly lackluster backchecking.
Instead of getting too into the weeds here, let’s just try to agree that, of the Canucks’ top-three centers, Miller is the worst of the bunch in his own end.
That could be a problem, with Miller now locked in place as a franchise centerpiece moving forward. Because Miller being on the ice a lot might hurt the team defensively, and his contract being on the books definitely hurts the team’s ability to fix its actual defense.
There’s little doubt that the Canucks do not have the sort of blueline that teams typically contend with. Of the current group, only Quinn Hughes looks to be a piece of long-term consequence. A thorough reconstruction is needed, but that’s going to require money, and where is that money going to come from?
Many had the $8 million now allocated to Miller earmarked for some defensive improvements. Now, that money is going to have to come from elsewhere…or not come at all.
#6: Now, someone else almost certainly has to go
Speaking of the cap, Miller’s extension is almost certainly the death knell for another player as a cap casualty. We just don’t know who it is yet.
We’ve got an entire article coming out on this subject soon, so we won’t get into enormous detail here.
But when (if?) Horvat signs his own extension, the Canucks are going to have somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50 million committed to just seven players, leaving an average of less than $3 million per to fill out the rest of the roster.
Tyler Myers seems like an easy subtraction, with two years at $6 million AAV left, but it’s not that simple. Even if the Canucks can trade him without taking any salary back, then his top-four role would still need to be replaced by someone making around the same amount of money, if not more.
Tanner Pearson and Jason Dickinson can go, but that’s not clearing up enough salary to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Once players like Vasily Podkolzin start asking for raises, it’s going to get really tight, really quick. Somewhere down the line, someone else is going to have to go. Is it Horvat? Brock Boeser or Conor Garland? Is it Pettersson when his contract is up in a few years?
Something has to give.
#7: The Miller contract is designed as to be unmoveable
The Miller contract has to work out for the Canucks, and it has to pay off within the next half-decade or less. We say “has to,” because if it doesn’t, the Canucks are basically screwed.
Like many modern contracts, the Miller extension is written so as to be unmoveable. There’s the full-NMC in all eight years of the deal, as well as the full-NTC for the first five (followed by a 15-team modified-NTC in the final three).
There’s also the prevalence of signing bonuses throughout the contract. These mean guaranteed money for Miller, but they also make his contract extremely onerous to buy out.
In other words, when the Canucks signed this contract, they didn’t just commit to eight years of salary. They committed to eight more years of Miller.
For better, and for worse.
#8: Elias Pettersson negotiations just got a lot tougher
All past negotiations impact future negotiations.
We’ve already touched on new contracts that are going to be needed for Horvat, and the inevitability of needing to give Podkolzin a raise. And what about Andrey Kuzmenko? Is he going to dazzle in his first season with the Canucks and then have to walk as a UFA?
But by far the most consequential outcome of the Miller extension is the impact it’s going to have on Pettersson’s next contract.
Most expect Pettersson to surpass Miller as the team’s most productive forward in the immediate future. If it doesn’t happen in 2022/23, it should happen the next year.
If and when that does happen, Miller’s extension becomes the bare-minimum benchmark for Petterson’s next one.
If, by the summer of 2024, Pettersson’s play has continued to improve, the Canucks are all of a sudden looking at an AAV in the double-digits. There’s also no way that Pettersson doesn’t land his own set of signing bonuses and trade protections now.
That all may have happened anyway, regardless of a Miller extension. But Miller’s contract could cause Pettersson’s own demands to increase, and it definitely removes some of the cap flexibility the Canucks might need to meet those demands.
This is a storyline that will continue to be played out.
#9: Time is now the enemy, and it’s undefeated
The clock is already ticking.
JT Miller is getting older every day, and his new contract — which doesn’t even kick in until the start of next season — gets closer and closer to that inevitable tipping-point of poor value with each passing hour.
The Canucks are now racing against time to get competitive before Miller ages out of effectiveness, and they’re already several steps behind.
Some have spoken about the likelihood of the cap ceiling being raised in the 2024 offseason. That’s all well and good, but by the time the summer of 2024 rolls around, Miller will be two years older, and that much closer to regression. Truly, the Canucks cannot afford to wait that long to start improving the team, or else they’ve wasted the most valuable years of this extension.
By signing Miller, the Canucks have more-or-less committed to an as-of-yet-unopened window of contention that will last five years at the most.
They are now racing against the clock to contend and succeed before that window slams shut and the consequential chickens of their short-term plans come home to roost.
Time is now the enemy.
Maybe they’ll beat it. But if they do, it’ll be a first.
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