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A weak free agency class could pose a unique opportunity for the Canucks to get real value for JT Miller

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
David Quadrelli
10 months ago
A quick glance at the NHL’s upcoming class of unrestricted free agent forwards illustrates one part of this story.
Tyler Bertuzzi. JT Compher. Michael Bunting. Alex Kerfoot. 31-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko. A 34-year-old Patrick Kane, just to name a few.
It’s also worth noting that just two of the players on that list are centres. That tells another part of this story.
In a free agency class where oft-penalized and still-somehow-a-rookie forward Michael Bunting is likely going to end up as the highest paid forward, it’s safe to say that relative to other years, this is a relatively weak free agency class. There’s no three-headed monster like there was in 2016. That was, of course, when highly-coveted scorers Loui Eriksson, Milan Lucic, and Kyle Okposo all hit the open market in the same summer.
If Miller were to hit the open market with the rest of this UFA forward class, he’d undoubtedly be the headliner, and with a potential cap increase, the bidding war could have seen him get a seven-year deal over $8.5 million when all is said and done. There’d almost certainly be at least one GM in the league jumping at the chance to secure him at an AAV of $8 million for the next eight years.
For the Canucks, JT Miller’s lack of trade protection until July 1st, when his brand-spanking-new 7 year, $56 million contract kicks in, tells another crucial part of this story.
To some extent, the Canucks are still in the process of figuring out who they are as a team. They’ve identified that they want to make the playoffs next season, but they’ve also made it known that they want to target players aged 26 and younger. The club’s acquisition of Filip Hronek lines up with that plan. Having a 30-year-old JT Miller around for seven more seasons? Perhaps not as much.
How much would a 26-and-under centre along with a first round pick or two entice the Canucks? That player, theoretically, would be a step down from Miller but would give the Canucks much-needed salary cap flexibility
To figure out the potential demand, we have to look no further than this past trade deadline, when it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins were clearing cap space in anticipation of pulling off a trade that brought Miller to his home state of Pennsylvania as the Penguins geared up for a playoff push. Instead, the Penguins reportedly scoffed at the Canucks’ ask of two first round picks and a prospect, instead opting to add Mikael Granlund from Nashville in exchange for a second round pick.
The Penguins went on to miss the playoffs, with their big deadline acquisition — who’s still on their books at $5 million annually until the end of the 2024-25 season — tallying one goal and four assists through 21 games. The club’s first playoff miss since 2006 ultimately cost Hextall and Burke their jobs, and the Penguins have begun their search for new leadership.
GMs looking to avoid a similar fate to Burke and Hextall, and instead looking to gear up and bring in a legit top six centre to their already-playoff-calibre teams, would be wise to pick up the phone and inquire about Miller before handing Michael Bunting the 6×6 contract he’s likely to get as this year’s headliner among forwards on the open market.
As the Canucks continue to explore all their options in freeing up cap space ahead of next season, a Miller trade represents the perfect “break glass in case of emergency” option. The Canucks may not have to do it, and they may not even want to necessarily do it, but if they choose to do it, they’ll likely get a solid return while also freeing up precious cap space. It might not be two firsts and a prospect, but nonetheless, this offseason marks the Canucks’ final chance to get real value for Miller on the trade market.

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