In hindsight, it’s not surprising that this day came for J.T. Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.
Despite months of trade rumours, GM Patrik Allvin and President of Hockey Ops Jim Rutherford were never in any kind of rush to trade Miller, who scored a career-high 99 points in 2021-22. Couple that with the front office electing not to let Miller speak with other teams about a contract extension, and his massive new seven-year deal was all but assured.
Miller’s contract extension will potentially keep him in a Canucks uniform until 2030, and pay him $56 million over that timespan. And with a no-trade clause through the first four seasons of his deal and a modified no-trade clause for the final three, Miller is likely locked into the Canucks’ plans until the contract expires a few months after his 37th birthday.
But as one major Canucks storyline ends, another takes its place. The actual value of Miller’s contract is going to be a big talking point in the season to come, especially with the squeeze it puts on the organization before captain Bo Horvat potentially lands in the free agent pool next offseason. The salary cap isn’t projected to rise by any significant amount until at least the 2023-24 season, so Vancouver is right back in the same bind as they were last year with little room to maneuver.
What can make that issue easier to stomach is a well-negotiated contract. Did the Canucks get good value in signing their returning top point-getter? And if Vancouver had chosen to let Miller test the open market instead, how much could he have gotten? Today we’ll attempt to answer both those questions.
Value & Comparables
Forsberg has been an integral part of the Predators’ offence since they acquired him in 2013, has played consistent top-line minutes throughout and holds a leadership position. Like Miller, his contract is slated to end at the beginning of the next decade, well into the twilight of their respective careers.
There are some crucial differences between the two, particularly based on even strength play and defensive skill sets. At 27, Forsberg is two years younger than Miller and has 15 more points in 71 fewer career games.
When their sample sizes are narrowed down to the previous three seasons, Miller leads the way with 53 more points than his Swedish counterpart. But if Forsberg’s higher scoring rate at even strength doesn’t narrow the gap enough, his much stronger defensive numbers will.
J.T. Miller (C, LW)
2019 – 2022
Filip Forsberg (LW)
Here we can see the staggering difference between Miller and Forsberg’s abilities in their own end, courtesy of Evolving Hockey:
Evolving Hockey’s skater similarity tool also provided some helpful comparables for Miller based on his age, shot and advanced stats over the last three seasons. The site lists Miller’s closest counterpart as 2017-20 Brayden Schenn, who posted 182 points across 225 games and signed a similar eight-year, $52 million contract after winning the Stanley Cup in 2019. But the second closest option provides a more cautious comparable; 2015-18 Jamie Benn.
After winning the Art Ross Trophy with an 87-point campaign in 2014-15 (talk about a lean scoring year), Benn went on to score 237 points across 241 games in his next three seasons. With one year left on his previous contract, the Stars inked their captain to an eight-year contract with an AAV of $9.5 million. Fast forward to today, and Benn has just 173 points across his last 281 games, which have been marred by injury and complaints of “horse-s*** play”
from his own front office.
The range of these deals shows how much the value of a contract goes hand in hand with the proper reasoning for signing them. The outcome for Miller’s will be contingent on how much it affects Rutherford and Allvin’s plans for assembling a playoff contender, but the current day value of it sits right amongst several similar extensions signed in recent years.
The Open Market
While all the previous comparisons fit the actual extension Miller signed with the Canucks, what he could’ve gotten on the open market is a different story all together. The most recent big UFA signing, Nazem Kadri’s seven-year deal with the Flames, provides the most reliable idea for a high-scoring centre’s current value.
Kadri’s contract is structured almost identically to Miller’s, with a No Move Clause across the first four seasons and a modified No Trade in the final three. But while Kadri was hoping to cash in at a cap hit closer to the $10 million range, Calgary was able to lock in the Stanley Cup Champion centre at a more manageable AAV of $7 million per year.
Considering how much better Miller’s scoring rate has been than Kadri’s since 2019-20, not even a Cup ring is enough to tip the scales. With a full 62 more points across that span, Miller was likely to earn at least the same cap hit the Canucks will be paying him in 2023.
The ceiling for Miller can be found with Johnny Gaudreau’s new contract in Columbus, which will pay the 28-year-old winger $9.75 million per year. Gaudreau might have 50 fewer games under his belt, but his 609 points — a full 155 more than Miller — is what earned him close to eight figures from the Blue Jackets.
Naturally, any team interested in signing Miller through free agency would’ve wanted to see how he’d perform in the upcoming season before landing on a dollar amount. If he were to end up with another 99-point season, it’s possible teams would’ve been willing to offer a deal in the $9-9.5 million range.
But if Miller were to cool off and end up at the 60-70 point pace from his first two seasons in Vancouver, it’s hard to see him earning much more than the $8 million the Canucks will be paying over seven of the next eight years. While Miller’s agent Brian Bartlett wasn’t joking around when he told Rick Dhaliwal that the centre had “left money on the table”
to stay in Vancouver, that amount is probably not too far off from the final number.
So while the overall decision to extend Miller will be up for debate long after this season ends, his eventual cap hit sits at a pretty reasonable amount for the scoring talent, power play work and ice time he currently provides. If the Canucks are lucky, it’ll remain that way; if not, they’ll have a lot bigger issues to solve over the next eight years.