It should be obvious to even a casual observer that the Vancouver Canucks have a potential personnel problem on their hands in the form of JT Miller.
Fans and media on local and national platforms have already opined loudly about two recent incidents in which Miller was seen loudly “redirecting” his teammates on the ice. When those call-outs were followed up by decidedly lacklustre defensive efforts on several subsequent plays by Miller, the daggers were out, and the general consensus seemed to be that Miller had become a serious threat to team performance and chemistry.
One person who did not seem phased by Miller’s actions, however, was President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford. In an interview with Postmedia’s Ben Kuzma earlier this week, Rutherford compared Miller to (of all people) Sidney Crosby in expressing his hopes that Miller could develop a 200-foot game. Said Rutherford of Miller, “He was very conscious and, sure, there are mistakes that are fixable. And he’s willing to do it. Sid has always been one of the great all-around players, but prior to winning back-to-back Cups, his 200-foot game became responsible.”
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But if Rutherford’s quote gives one reason for pause and doubt, it pales in comparison to the soundbites that Miller himself has been offering up in response to questions about his conduct. It really seems as though every time Miller attempts to speak to the issue, he’s determined to prove Rutherford’s belief in his consciousness and awareness wrong.
Miller seems to be out to demonstrate a genuine lack of self-awareness, and that casts serious doubt on his ability to actually fix those fixable flaws that Rutherford described.
Most caught the quote Miller dropped after Monday’s practice in which he noted that he hadn’t “been on for a lot against.”
This came on the heels of a month in which Miller was on the ice for 14 goals against and was drastically outscored at 5v5.
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“I’d like to say that my lack of production is a compliment to me not cheating the game and playing the right way,” Miller went on to state. This seems like an odd thing to say for someone being criticized for both lacklustre production and lacklustre defensive effort.
From the perspective of most fans and media, there’s certainly been ample cheating in Miller’s current on-ice approach. Lazy backchecks, dangerous cross-ice passes, blind throws into the middle; the list goes on.
Now, if this were just a one-off quote from a frustrated player being hounded by the media, that would be one thing. But a lack of self-awareness has been a running theme for Miller all season long, if not longer.
When Miller started out the 2022/23 campaign by being on the ice for a truly preposterous amount of goals against in a row, he responded by telling reporters that “I’m not going to change the way I’m playing, away from the puck and in my own end because I don’t think I’ve given up much of anything there.”
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Back in mid-December, Miller dropped perhaps his most bizarre quote yet, explaining that “it feels like we’ve been playing Game 7 for a year and a half now. It’s exhausting.”
For fans who had been watching the Canucks during that year and a half to learn that what they had witnessed constituted a consistent “Game 7” effort was disconcerting, to say the very least.
It’s clear that Miller is perfectly capable of applying blame when it’s due, and sometimes when it’s not. He’s been seen in on-ice shouting matches with all of Collin Delia, Quinn Hughes, and Luke Schenn this season, and fans have been more than willing to hazard a guess that those are far from the only incidences.
But self-improvement always involves turning that critical lens upon oneself. And every time Miller speaks these days, it’s like he’s determined to demonstrate as little of that required self-awareness as possible.
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Look, there’s some merit to be found in Rutherford’s words. Crosby did double down on his defensive responsibilities before winning his second and third Stanley Cups, something he did at right around the same age that Miller is now.
But a key difference to point out would be that Crosby always had a much stronger reputation for defensive responsibility than Miller, who has often been labelled with the opposite expectation. And an even keyer difference is that Crosby didn’t go around telling anyone who would listen that he was perfectly fine in his own end and didn’t speak about any sort of need for improvement.
If Miller really is going to become the player that Rutherford hopes he re-signed to a massive extension, that change is going to have to come from within, via retrospection and introspection.
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If that happens, the evidence should be noticeable in Miller’s discussion of his own game, just as evidence of the opposite is now so readily available.