The Vancouver Canucks have made the decision to extend J.T. Miller and give the 29-year-old forward a seven-year contract that carries a cap hit of $8 million. There’s no question that Miller is a great player but there are concerns over how the deal will look as he ages.
Those concerns are made worse because of the Canucks’ dire salary cap situation. Even before signing Miller, the Canucks were strapped for cash with multiple long-term contracts on the book that look less than amazing. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has another five years at $7.26 million, Tyler Myers has two more at $6 million, and that’s not including the number of overpaid mediocre players on the roster such as Tucker Poolman.
The Canucks’ salary cap restrictions have been a major storyline for some time now and the J.T. Miller contract is only going to make things worse. Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin are going to need to do some serious gymnastics to not only add to the roster, but even just keep it together.
The reality of the situation is that Miller getting this large contract will have a butterfly effect on the decisions that the Canucks make for the next several years. Many of those decisions are going to be determined by the salary cap because of the Canucks mismanagement. One of the major decisions that could be impacted: the future of Bo Horvat.
Money is getting tight for the Vancouver Canucks
When J.T. Miller’s extension kicks in during the 2023-24 season, the Vancouver Canucks will not be finished with any of the significant salary commitments that they have at the moment. However, Bo Horvat will be a free agent. The Canucks would like to avoid a situation where they enter the latter part of next season without their captain signed long-term but it may be difficult to come to an agreement.
“The JT contract will not impact Bo [Horvat],” said Jim Rutherford. “We would like to sign Bo.”
As much as Rutherford wants to say that signing Miller has no impact on the team’s plans to sign Bo, it’s impossible to ignore the salary cap crunch facing the Canucks. Horvat could demand somewhere in between $7.25-$7.75 per season over a long term contract. Signing Miller has a direct impact on the Canucks ability to afford that $7.25-$7.75 million over the long term, no matter what Rutherford says.
Relying on Horvat to take a hometown discount is risky business
A common idea that has been raised by Canucks fans is that Horvat is going to take a hometown discount to stay with the team. There’s a prevailing idea that he would be ok sacrificing $500k-$1 million per season to stay in Vancouver with the Canucks, the organization that made him captain in such a beautiful city.
However, Horvat has no responsibility to take that discount. As a centreman that’s coming off of a 30-goal season, Horvat could be one of the league’s most desirable free agents next summer if he can break that plateau once again. There are a lot of teams that would open the chequebook for a back-to-back 30-goal-scoring centre.
Joshua Norris is coming off of a 35 goal and 55 points in 66 games season and signed a deal with an AAV of $7.95. While it’s not the perfect comparable because Norris has accomplished this at a much younger age, it gives an idea of the elevated market for goal-scoring centres.
If the Canucks let Horvat go into the season without an extension and he starts to play well, his leverage is going to go up. If he continues to play well, he could price himself out of the Canucks tight budget in a jiffy.
Can both Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller be Canucks in three years?
With Miller’s brand new extension, the question is if there’s space for both him and Horvat to be Canucks in three years. There were lots of rumours that Miller and Horvat had two camps in the dressing room but there’s been a lack of evidence to back up those claims. The real deciding factor will not be if the two personalities can fit together in the dressing room, but if both contracts can fit on the books.
The Canucks will need to move someone out over the next 12 months, before the Miller extension and a potential Horvat extension kick in, to make extending both viable. As it stands, the Canucks are projected to have around $14 million in cap space for the 2023-24 season. They’ll need to fill around six roster spots with that money. That $14 million will also have to go to re-signing Horvat, Nils Höglander, and potentially Andrey Kuzmenko.
If the Canucks want to, they can find a way to make the math work and sign Horvat long term. However, that decision will also continue to take away from the team’s ability to improve or sign supporting pieces. The Canucks have plenty of long term cap commitments and better hope that the current talent on the roster can develop into a Stanley Cup contender in the next few years because — barring an excellent general manager performance — there’s not much help on the way.