A certain former editor of this very website once infamously opined that the trade that brought JT Miller to the Vancouver Canucks was so bad, they couldn’t stop laughing at it.
That trade, for those who don’t recall exactly, had the Canucks sending Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third round pick (used on Hugo Alnefelt), and a conditional first round pick (later traded to New Jersey and used on Shakir Mukhamadullin) to Tampa Bay in exchange for Miller.
At the time, the argument against the trade was less that the Canucks were not getting fair value, and more that the timing was off. The Canucks weren’t anywhere close to competing, they had a nearly empty prospect cupboard, and they seemed to be more in need of talent in the future, not the present.
Well, it didn’t take long for that take to be thrown right back in the face of that editor and anyone else who dared laugh at the trade. Miller put up 27 goals and 72 points in that first regular season with the Canucks, both career highs, before lighting up the bubble playoffs for 18 points in 17 games across three rounds.
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Suddenly, no one was laughing.
After 46 points in 53 games for his second, truncated season in Vancouver, Miller stepped it all the way up to 99 points in the 2020/21 campaign, numbers that hadn’t been seen in Vancouver since the heyday of the Sedins.
Surely, no one could find objection with the Miller trade now, right?
Well, maybe. Maybe not. Because as good as Miller played over those first three seasons, what did it really do for the Canucks?
Other than that first year (in which they shouldn’t have made the postseason), the Canucks have not even sniffed the playoffs with Miller on the roster, and it looks like this year will be much of the same. What the Canucks do have in hand, however, is a brand-new, seven-year extension for Miller that will carry him on to the year 2030 and is already starting to look like a bit of an albatross.
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Let’s go back to those initial criticisms of the trade. Few, if any, said that Miller wasn’t a good player, or that he couldn’t potentially be worth a first and a third in a vacuum. The critique was, generally, that the timing was off, and that the Canucks were expending future assets when they should be compiling them. The more they invested in veteran players, the less set up they would be for future success, so moves like the Miller trade weren’t just ill-timed, they were directly counterproductive.
Hard to argue with that now.
So, in hindsight, were those laughing at the Miller trade right all along?
Yes, and no.
It’s true that the Canucks did not get what they ostensibly hoped they would out of the Miller acquisition, which was the team becoming genuinely competitive in the near future. Instead, they’ve floundered for three-and-a-half years, continuing to eschew future assets and acquire redundant veterans like they’re going out of style.
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In other words, through two managerial groups, they’re still following the lead of the Miller trade, and living up to that precedent that folks were so worried was being set.
And yet…
Miller has had some really, really good seasons for the Canucks. So much so that, for a while there anyway, his value as a tradeable asset had skyrocketed well beyond the price that the Canucks had initially paid for him.
We’ll probably never know the full extent of the offers made for Miller’s services over the past two years, but we know that at least one of them was Filip Chytil, Nils Lundkvist, and a first round pick.
That, anyone can recognize, is a lot more than what the Canucks gave up for Miller in the first place.
The trade may have been ill-timed, it may have been wrongheaded, but the Canucks still could have come out of it on top anyway, thanks to Miller’s unexpected progression as an individual player.
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The Canucks could have retroactively made the Miller trade into a genius move, but only if they had actually sold high on the asset.
Instead, they bought high on a contract extension, and of course they did.
The Canucks, whether under the leadership of Jim Benning or Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin, seem to be absolutely allergic to the concept of selling high, often described as the most basic tenet of good asset management.
The list of players that Vancouver has had in their possession, watched reach peak value, and then failed to cash in on is a long and frustrating one. It’s not just that players keep losing value in Vancouver, it’s that the team seemingly refuses to do anything with them until they lose value.
Heading backward chronologically, we’ll start with Jason Dickinson, acquired for a third round pick, signed to an extension before playing a single game with the Canucks, and ultimately dealt away alongside a second round pick as compensation.
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Or what about Nate Schmidt, who the Canucks supposedly stole away for a mere third round pick, only to trade him a year later for…a third round pick.
And let’s not spend too much time dwelling on the likes of Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, and Tyler Toffoli, all of whom reached a peak of performance in Vancouver just before being allowed to walk as free agents into the arms of rival teams.
The list goes on. Heck, we can spin this all the way back to Dan Hamhuis if we really want to.
But perhaps the player that best personifies this particular problem is Tanner Pearson.
Like with Miller, the Canucks made a bit of a coup when they acquired Pearson for the low, low price of one Erik Gudbranson.
Pearson’s 57 points through his first 88 games with the Canucks had the trade looking like a definite win. Come the 2021 Trade Deadline, the Canucks were well out of it, Pearson was an expiring UFA and a highly-sought after rental on the market. Pundits believed at the time that the Canucks could get back as much as a first round pick for Pearson’s services.
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It was the ultimate opportunity to sell high.
Instead, the Canucks re-signed Pearson to a three-year extension at the Trade Deadline, giving up that potential return in exchange for yet another veteran contract that basically became bloated the second it was signed.
Rinse, repeat.
Snap back to the present day, and the danger signs are present once again.
Bo Horvat, among the league leaders in goals for what is probably the only time in his career, is an obvious opportunity to sell high.
Same goes for pending UFA Luke Schenn, having the best season of his life at the ripe ol’ age of 33.
The same could even be said for Andrei Kuzmenko, another pending UFA in the midst of a PPG season as a first year NHLer on an entry-level contract.
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All players could be sold high on, and given the continued state of the Canucks’ prospect cupboard, that would be the wisest and most necessary move.
But is it a move that the Canucks will actually make?
History says no, but only time will tell.