In 2019, the Vancouver Canucks traded Marek Mazanec and two draft picks for J.T. Miller, a then 26-year-old forward who has since blossomed into one of the best wingers in the league. A few years later, the Canucks have to make a decision on if they will deal Miller themselves as they approach the trade deadline out of a playoff spot.
As one of the best wingers in the league, Miller would fetch a hefty return. Whether that return would be more valuable to the Canucks organization than Miller is the big question. He’s got one more year after this one on his contract at a very reasonable cap hit of $5.25 million but will have earned himself a large raise on his next extension. With the Canucks already stuck in cap hell, that extension might not be one that they can afford, especially since other core players like Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat will also need to be re-signed.
It’s a delicate situation that will have a massive impact on the near future of the Vancouver Canucks. It will be the first test of the new Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin regime and will be very telling as to what they think of the team. Do they sell Miller for prospects and picks and accept that the team is nowhere close to contending? Or do they keep Miller and build around him as a franchise cornerstone?
To keep the franchise on the right track Rutherford and Allvin should keep Miller, at least through this trade deadline. While the trade offers are sure to be tempting, Miller is more valuable to the team than the potential return, and he’s proved that more than ever this year.
Let’s break down some of the different factors that will go into this decision.
J.T. Miller’s contract situation
The biggest factor in this decision is J.T. Miller’s contract situation. The worst-case scenario would be for the Canucks to keep him and then watch him walk after the 2022-23 season for nothing. There will be plenty of teams offering him large contracts and if the Canucks still aren’t competitive, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which he walks.
However, recently some rumours have been swirling around the Vancouver market that Miller would be looking for a 5-6 year extension with an average annual value of somewhere in the $7-8 million range. That’s quite reasonable for a player who has been the team’s most consistent forward in the three years since arriving in Vancouver.
While Boeser will be demanding at least $7.5 million as well because of his qualifying offer, it is possible for the Canucks to make it all work with some gymnastics. Trading Tanner Pearson or Jason Dickinson, or possibly both, would free up the necessary cap space for the Canucks to keep both of their star wingers.
J.T. Miller’s value to the team
Trading J.T. Miller right now would mean the Canucks losing their best forward, most likely sending the team further down the standings. Trading Miller is also a clear message from management to the players that the organization is not going to be competitive for the next few years. We don’t need to go back too far to remember how the reaction was to losing veteran contributors like Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev, and Jacob Markstrom.
For the core, admission of another rebuild would be a bad sign and there’s no reason as to why players would want to go through that again. Just this past offseason, Elias Pettersson was already talking with Swedish reporters about how he wants to play for a team with “a chance to go far into the playoffs every year”.
Without Miller, the Canucks are likely headed back to the basement, not that they are that far out now, and the frustration among the players would be high. Miller contributes in so many ways and at such a high pace that it would be impossible to replicate right away.
Getting a top-tier prospect and draft pick would be nice, but there’s no guarantee that they ever amount to anything. While the entry-level contract would make the Canucks’ cap situation a little better, if the player isn’t producing, then what’s the point? The Canucks have been blessed with young players that have stepped into the lineup and been able to play immediately, but it’s important to remember that’s more of an exception than the norm.
Make the right decision, not the fast one
Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin have just arrived in Vancouver and have barely had time to settle in before being faced with this decision that will have major consequences on the rest of their time with the organization. While contenders will want to pay for J.T. Miller at this year’s trade deadline, holding onto him until the end of the year is another option. It would then be possible to reassess the situation, especially because so much can change in those few months.
While his value will have diminished slightly, there will still be plenty of teams lining up to acquire a bonafide star on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the league for the 2022-23 season. If the team acquiring Miller is confident he will sign an extension, the package will look similar to what is out there right now. At his introductory press conference, Allvin expressed his desire to take some time to evaluate the organization from head to toe.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the team and getting to know the people, the staff, and the players here, spend time with Jim, and talk about the staff and players,” commented Allvin. “I think that the most important thing here in the next couple of weeks is to evaluate and see where we are.”
What do you think the Canucks should do with Miller? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!