In some ways, being a Vancouver Canucks fan is a lot like being in the mafia.
Just when you thought you’d read your last article about trading JT Miller, they pull you back in for one last job.
Yes, we’re only seven games past the summer signing of Miller’s seven-year, $56 million extension, and that might seem a little early to start the trade talks up again. On the other hand, it’s been quite a seven games, and the circumstances have shifted significantly from where they were back in the offseason — both for the team as a whole, and for Miller, specifically.
Trading Miller today is not the same endeavour as it was a few months back, not by a longshot. In fact, Miller’s current circumstances could be looked at as a very unique opportunity.
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Allow us to explain.
Back when Miller first hit the market in earnest, right around the time of the 2022 trade deadline, the list of potential suitors was limited to those teams ready and willing to use Miller as a “two-year rental.” In other words, it was down to the league’s top contenders, and that was about it. Despite at least one compelling offer from the New York Rangers, a transaction never materialized.
Following the deadline, the Miller market shifted. Now, two playoff runs were off the table. Instead, teams would be trading for a full year of Miller’s services and the chance to re-sign him to a long-term contract thereafter. The list of suitors was thus expanded into teams that were looking for a high-quality rental and those interested in making Miller a piece of their foreseeable future.
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Again, talks were held, and again, nothing happened. Eventually, the Canucks’ front office decided to extend Miller instead of trading him, and a contract was signed.
But the very nature of that contract, and the fact that it does not officially kick in until the 2023 offseason, opens up an entirely new, previously inaccessible trade market for Miller — if the Canucks are willing to explore it.
And Miller’s play in the early goings of the 2022/23 season make it all the more likely that they are willing.
Miller is signed for one more year at a $5.25 million cap hit before his extension becomes active. Notably, this final year of his previous contract includes absolutely no trade protection. As soon as the extension comes into effect, Miller will have a full no-movement clause and a full no-trade clause (that opens up into a 15-team no-trade list as of 2027/28.)
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But, for the present moment, Miller is tradeable to anyone and to anywhere.
Back when the Canucks were shopping around an unextended Miller, they were mostly limited to those teams who earnestly believed they could sign Miller to a long-term contract. Some teams, therefore, were entirely off the table.
Now the Canucks can offer Miller up, with a long-term extension in place, and — for the next eight months, anyway — no real say in his destination.
What that means is a unique opportunity for a franchise that might otherwise struggle to add a top-tier free agent of Miller’s calibre to skip the frenzy and just acquire that player with a UFA-style contract already in place.
And a unique opportunity for the Canucks to market Miller to such teams.
It’s no real mystery who we’re talking about here. Picture the Arizona Coyotes, and maybe some other teams like the Buffalo Sabres or the Detroit Red Wings or the Winnipeg Jets…but mostly, picture the Arizona Coyotes.
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Previously, a team like the Coyotes would have had no business trading for Miller. Sure, they might be able to afford him, but he was only signed on for a year, they weren’t anywhere near contention, and the odds of Miller signing an extension with them was beyond slim.
As of right now, however, that last factor has evaporated. Any team, Coyotes included, can trade for Miller and know that he comes with a seven-year extension beyond this season already attached. That could be a game changer.
Under ordinary circumstances, Arizona would have next-to-no chance of attracting a Miller type during the Free Agent Frenzy. Under the right light, this could be seen as their best hope of super-charging the rebuild and bringing in the sort of player that is entirely unavailable to them at most times.
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How many times does a high-profile talent wind up on an expiring, tradable contract that backs into a long-term extension, and on the trade block at the same time? Not very often.
It could also be the Canucks’ last best hope to wring full value out of Miller.
Arizona could certainly afford the price. That has never really been a concern. The Coyotes have nearly $17 million in cap space, a bevy of valuable prospects, and countless expendable draft picks. Dead-set on a young RHD? Arizona can offer up either Victor Soderstrom or Maveric Lamoureux as a centrepiece. Need a first or second round pick? The Coyotes have ten to choose from over the next three drafts.
Those who would deem Miller already untradeable are probably not correct. There are still plenty of teams out there who would sign Miller to the same contract he’s already signed if he were to become a UFA this summer, and so there must be those same teams out there willing to trade for him right now.
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But being willing to trade for Miller, and being willing to give up real value in return for him, are two different things.
Only by exploiting this new market of teams who need to acquire their long-term pieces via draft or trade can the Canucks find a partner who might really be willing to offer up something worth their while.
Are there some ethical concerns with signing someone to a seven-year deal and then flipping them to an undesirable destination? Possibly. But there’s no way of knowing what assurances were made when Miller signed his extension. If there was talk of not trading him in the year to come, that’s a different story. If no such discussions were held, it would seem to be open season for the time being.
It’s also important to note that the Canucks could have given Miller trade protection for this season when they extended him, but for whatever reason, they didn’t.
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Either way, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation for the Vancouver Canucks, and they should be actively exploring all possibilities in order to right their ship.
This one particular possibility might be a little outside-the-box, but that could also be exactly what the Canucks are looking for.
It’s food for thought, anyway, as Miller and the Canucks try to turn things around on a troubling start to the 2022/23 campaign.