The J.T. Miller trade rumour saga has finally come to a close.
The Vancouver Canucks announced Friday afternoon that they had agreed to terms with the American-born forward on a seven-year contract worth $56 million. At $8 million per season, Miller instantly becomes the most expensive player on the Canucks’ roster.
What to do with Miller has been a difficult question for the Canucks but in the end, the team decided that the best course of action was to give him a large extension.
“It was a slow process at times but we decided this is a player we must re-sign,” said Jim Rutherford. “We will figure out the cap next summer.”
It’s hard to judge this contract today with so much still up in the air and the real report card will come eight years down the line. However, there are many layers that we can examine and start to get an idea of the pros and cons of the Canucks making this franchise-altering move.
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The Pros

Pro: The Canucks weren’t going to sign him for cheaper

At $8 million per year, “cheap” isn’t the word to describe J.T. Miller’s new contract. However, it’s very unlikely that the Canucks could’ve signed him for a lesser price.
Tage Thompson, who scored 38 goals last season after a suspicious jump in shooting percentage, was just handed a $50 million seven-year contract. Nazem Kadri left money on the table to sign a $49 million seven-year contract in Calgary. The comparables around the league were just making things tougher for the Canucks.
At $8 million per season, Miller is expensive, but he could easily outperform that number by a solid margin over the next few seasons.

Pro: The Canucks keep last season’s leading scorer

Keeping last season’s leading scorer is a great thing for the Canucks. Miller was likely the team’s best skater last season and alternated between being a one-man highlight reel and a virtuoso playmaker.
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It would have been impossible for the Canucks to replace Miller’s production next season. He finished top-ten across the entire NHL in scoring and the Canucks keeping him on their roster is a massive positive from this extension.
“He is an impact player, hard to find those guys who can change the game like him,” said Rutherford after the extension was made public.

Pro: The Canucks have made centre a position of strength

Having strong centre depth is a crucial part of building a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and the finalizing of Miller into the lineup means that the Canucks are deeper down the middle than they’ve been in years. Miller is joined by Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Curtiz Lazar, and Jason Dickinson as players that can all provide something of value as centremen.
Miller is the full package in that he can score, be physical, and provide a rare intensity on the ice. Horvat gives the team a 30-goal scorer in the middle-six. Pettersson is one of the league’s best two-way players when going and still has room to improve. Lazar and Dickinson both have a history of being valuable bottom-six pieces, even if Dickinson didn’t show that last year.
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Pro: Fans get to watch (what should be) the best Canucks team in years

Another positive from this extension is that fans get to watch what should be a good Canucks team next season. The forward group is incredibly deep as they’ve added Andrey Kuzmenko, Ilya Mikheyev, and Curtis Lazar to a group that didn’t lose anyone significant.
If the Canucks had traded Miller, that move would have likely been accompanied by selling off other assets in an attempt to do a re-tool that would’ve resulted in poor results in the immediate future. While this is not to debate which path is more viable, the truth is that re-signing Miller makes the Canucks a better team next season as well as more exciting to watch.

Pro: Large salary cap increases may make the cap hit look much smaller

Some news has come out recently that the NHL’s recovery from the pandemic has been a bit better than expected and that could result in the salary cap rising quicker than usual after either the 2023-24 season or the 2024-25 season. No matter what happens, the salary cap will almost definitely continue to rise and as it does so, Miller’s contract looks much more reasonable.
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While most of the fear surrounding this contract is about how it will look in its last few years, it’s important to remember that the salary cap will be higher at that time and $8 million will represent a smaller slice of the total cap.

The Cons

Con: The potential devastation of the back end of the contract

With all that said, this is a huge risk by the Canucks. Miller will be 30 years old when the extension kicks in and is coming off a career season. If you exclude last season, Miller’s best point total across a season is 72, though he did do that in 69 games. Signing him to a large extension through his mid and late 30s is a risk.
“This is a player that you have to take some risk with,” commented Rutherford. “You don’t know when players get to that age. Some players still play fine and some start to decline a little bit more. But for what J.T. has done for the Canucks, what he’s capable of doing going forward, we just felt it was worth that.”
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Con: The inability to reallocate resources to the defence group

The Canucks also missed out on the opportunity to reallocate some resources to the defence group. The team currently has a jarring split in terms of the talent in the forward group and the defence corps. The forward group looks like it belongs to a contender while the defence looks like it belongs to a bottom-feeder.
Trading Miller would have given the Canucks the chance to recoup a defender that could have been part of the top-four for years to come. Even if they didn’t acquire that asset directly in the trade, which they very well might have, creating cap space and gaining other liquid assets such as draft picks would have made it much easier.

Con: Makes it extremely difficult to improve the group from here on out

The Canucks have essentially pushed all their chips in the middle and the result is a team that looks like a scary round one opponent that might be able to take the Colorado Avalanche to six games — and that’s if they get excellent goaltending from Demko. The team does not have the cap space, tradeable assets, or draft picks to make any notable improvements.
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Maybe the Canucks are really as good as they played under Bruce Boudreau last season. Maybe Vasily Podkolzin takes a step forward, Jack Rathbone proves himself to be an everyday NHLer, and Nils Höglander has a bounce back season. Even then, is the team a legitimate Stanley Cup contender on the level of the Avalanche, Maple Leafs, or Lightning?

Con: The Canucks seemingly not learning from their mistakes

You do not need to go back far in Canucks history to find an example of a GM making mistakes because of a short-sighted vision. While this is a brand new management group, it seems like the Miller extension could be another example of the Canucks sacrificing the future for the present.
Miller makes the team better in the short-term. There’s no question about that. However, does he make them good enough to be a Stanley Cup contender in the next three years? The Canucks better hope that the answer to that question is yes else there may be a whole lot of pain coming.
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