Regardless of the Horvat outcome, trading JT Miller is still the wisest choice for the Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5 months ago
To say that the Vancouver Canucks and their fans are in a weird place right now with captain Bo Horvat would be putting it excessively mildly.
Watch the eyes of a Canuck fan when Horvat scores these days, and you’ll see conflict. Sure, it’s always a happy occasion when the home team scores, but when Horvat scores, it’s not all smiles and rainbows. That’s because most Canucks fans, on some level, understand that with each and every goal he scores, Horvat is effectively lowering his chances of remaining in Vancouver.
It’s a darn shame, but it’s a reality of having a player play out their last season of a contract as a pending UFA. Sometimes, the asking price goes down, and sometimes it skyrockets. Extending Horvat’s contract was a possibility this past offseason, and there was ripe debate to be had about the merits of such a signing.
There’s no real debate to be had now. Up to 22 goals in 31 games already, Horvat is having the career season of all career seasons at age 27, and now he’s going to get paid the sort of dollars that teams almost always regret. Someone is going to hand Horvat a contract with an average in the range of $9 million this summer, and the Canucks really can’t afford for it to be them.
It might have been a mistake not to re-sign Horvat in the summer, but it would be an even bigger mistake to re-sign him at this point.
That ship, sadly, has sailed.
Which brings us, in a circumnavigational manner, to JT Miller.
In a very real sense, the Canucks and Miller are situated right now like the Canucks and Horvat were situated this past summer, with some key differences.
For Miller, both the career year and the oversized contract extension that follow have already occurred. Miller posted 32 goals and 99 points in 2021/22, up significantly from his career PPG and in a season in which leaguewide scoring was at an all-time high. Then the Canucks did what they can no longer afford to do for Horvat, and they paid Miller accordingly. Miller’s extension covers seven years at an AAV of exactly $8 million and comes with a full no-movement clause through the first half. But with Miller still in the last year of his previous contract, this new deal doesn’t kick in until July of 2023.
That last bit might just be the Canucks’ saving grace.
Imagine, for a moment, that Horvat continued his torrid goal-scoring pace all season long, and that the Canucks somehow found it in them to reward him with a massive contract extension. Next, imagine that Horvat responded to the new contract by immediately regressing back to his old rate of production, clipping in shots at about a 30-goal pace.
What would you feel? Regret, disappointment, a touch of buyer’s remorse?
Chances are good that, at some point, you’d express a desire to go back in time and not sign that exorbitant contract. You’d probably wish that the team could have just cashed in on Horvat, the asset, before they turned him into Horvat, the albatross contract. But it’d be too late. Each and every year from there on out, an aging Horvat would continue to lose value, and you’d have to just sit there and watch him become an absolute boat anchor.
It’s not too late, however, to avoid this fate with Miller.
Make no mistake, it’s already in the process of happening. Miller has 27 points through 31 games on the 2022/23 season. Call it a slump if you must, but it’s also a 0.87 PPG rate, which is exactly the same rate that Miller posted in 2021/22 before “breaking out.”
Both numbers, for the record, are well over and above Miller’s career PPG. This isn’t a cold snap, it’s regression, and it was probably inevitable.
Miller has also struggled to maintain a spot in the centre of the lineup, even with Elias Pettersson missing time. He’s showing that, in the long run, he’ll probably remain a winger in most lineups.
Toss in the fact that Miller is just three months away from his 30th birthday, and it all starts looking like a bad mix. Miller’s trademark style is pretty hard-charging, and that sort of play gets harder the further one gets into their 30s.
Is a seven-year, $8 million AAV contract fair for a 99-point centre? Sure, probably, but that’s not who the Canucks are actually going to end up paying that salary.
Is it fair for a 70-ish-point aging winger? Nope, not really, but that’s who they’re probably stuck with, from now until the year 2030.
Or, again, that’s who they would be stuck with, had the Canucks not left themselves with an escape hatch. Because this is not the Horvat situation. Yes, the Canucks overreacted to a career season and rewarded a player with a contract that hasn’t even started yet and is already aging like milk. But it also hasn’t started yet, and that could make all the difference in the world.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, but any set of eyes should already be able to clock Miller’s contract as a regrettable one. This is a rare opportunity to undo a mistake before it becomes costly, and it’s one that the Canucks need to take.
Right now, Miller has about six months left on the contract that pays him an AAV of $5.25 million and, most importantly, offers him no trade protection whatsoever. It would be understandable if the market has cooled significantly from the one that reportedly offered up Filip Chytil, Nils Lundkvist, and a first for Miller back at the past Trade Deadline, but it would be shocking to learn that the pool of interested suitors had evaporated entirely.
Back then, the name of the game was maximizing trade return. Now, it’s doing whatever it takes to get out of a bad contract in the narrow window during which it is possible. If, that is, it is still possible.
Re-signing Horvat this past summer might have been the wise choice, just as trading him now is a wise choice. But trading Miller is, was, and always has been the wisest choice of all. Thus far, the Canucks have bungled their best chances to do so.
Let’s see how they do with their last one.
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