Vancouver Canucks fans who don’t love the idea of trading J.T. Miller might change their tune if they knew the only comparable for sending a player like Miller away in the past 20 years is prime Jaromir Jagr.
Okay, okay, as much as statements without context are fun, we can only live in that world for a sentence or two, so let’s add some shading.
Miller finished this season with 99 points, good for 10th spot in NHL scoring. Since 2000-01, the long-locked Czech God is the only player to finish as a top-10 scorer and be moved in the off-season immediately following that campaign. After leading the league in scoring for the fourth straight year in 2000-01 with 121 points, Jagr was shipped from the financially troubled Pittsburgh Penguins to the Washington Capitals for three guys you’d be very hard-pressed to name, so we’ll just give them to you: Kris Beech, a seventh-overall pick in 1999, Michal Sivek, 29th in ’99 and Ross Lupaschuk, 34th in that same draft.
I think we can safely say, should they ship Miller out, the Canucks would hope for a haul that ages better than that.
Marian Hossa was also traded on the heels of a top-10 scoring year, but the off-season in that case lasted well over 12 months as he was dealt in the summer of 2005 from Ottawa to Atlanta for Dany Heatley after an owners’ lockout completely obliterated the 2004-05 campaign. Hossa is also one of three players — along with Jiri Hudler and Martin St. Louis — to be moved as part of an in-season swap the year following a top-10 showing in the past two decades.
A range of considerations drive these transactions and in the case of the Canucks, they’re looking at the fact Miller can become an unrestricted free agent in 2023 and dreading the idea of him leaving for nothing should the club and player not be able to hammer out an extension. Vancouver has no shortage of contract concerns these days, with captain Bo Horvat also eligible to become a UFA that same summer, while Brock Boeser can reach RFA status in about one month.
We obviously don’t know if the Canucks will go down the path of dealing the 29-year-old Miller. What we can say for certain is, if he does go on the market, just about every team in the league would feel compelled to connect with Vancouver GM Patrik Allvin given what Miller brings. Even taking last season’s career year out of it, he played at a point-per-game pace through 122 contests during his first two pandemic-impacted seasons on the west coast after the Canucks themselves surrendered a first-rounder (and a third) to get him from Tampa Bay in 2019. Miller can line up on wing or at centre and his rounded game would bring enormous value to any top-six mix, even if his production dropped a bit from last year’s elite numbers.
With one year to go on a contract that counts $5.25 million against the cap, Miller offers tremendous bang-for-buck right now. Whether or not he’d be willing to ink an extension with any potential new club — as Seth Jones did with Chicago last summer — obviously impacts what the Canucks could expect back in a deal.
With or without some added security, though, teams will be very interested. We’ve identified a few who might be among the first to call — or, in many cases, call back after already reaching out a few months back at the trade deadline.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings would seem to check every box you can think of save for the fact they might be saving their powder to chase a defenceman like Jakob Chychrun rather than a forward. The Kings have a strong prospect base to pull from and are hungry to make a leap after a surprise playoff appearance and seven-game first-round loss to Edmonton.
New York Rangers
The team that drafted Miller 15th overall in 2011 has certainly been linked to him in the recent past. After a final-four showing in which some of its top players struggled to produce at five-on-five, won’t the Blueshirts be motivated to find the piece that puts them over the top?
Usually known for stability, there’s more than a little turmoil surrounding the B’s right now with the somewhat-surprise dismissal of coach Bruce Cassidy and the sense that David Pastrnak — also eligible to become a UFA in 2023 — may not be sprinting toward T.D. Garden, pen in hand any time soon to sign a big extension with Boston. Maybe there is some kind of rebuild or re-tool coming in Massachusetts. But if the Bruins want to remain competitive they have to improve up the middle, regardless of whether or not Patrice Bergeron retires. Miller would certainly help with that.
The Preds might know by the NHL Draft (July 7-8) whether they’re in pole position to bring back pending-UFA Filip Forsberg or if the Swede is likely to leave via the open market later this summer. If it looks like he’s got one foot out the door, it’s easy to imagine GM David Poile getting aggressive in search of replacement goals. And even if Forsberg stays, Nashville is in an ultra-tough Central Division and needs to keep adding if it wants to move up the ladder.
The Pens are approaching a huge off-season, with both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang eligible to walk as free agents. If they lose one of those guys, could they pivot to trying to acquire a guy who played youth hockey in Pittsburgh and might be very open to an extension with the Pens?
Vegas Golden Knights
You just can’t make a list like this and not include Vegas, especially when the team is a little salty after the first non-playoff showing in franchise history. Vegas has already hired a new coach in Cassidy and off-loaded Evgenii Dadonov’s contract to create a little cap space. If they could move another body out the door — Jonathan Marchessault only has two years left at $5-million per — maybe they could squeeze Miller in.
Basically Every Team Holding Picks Five Through Nine
The issue with most of the clubs listed above is they’re either picking in the last half of the first round or, in the case of Vegas and Boston, don’t have a first-rounder at all. 2023 first-rounders are coveted, but you know that’s going to come with Connor Bedard protection. You start talking about top-10 selections, though, and you might get the Canucks’ attention.
Let’s play this out: Philadelphia holds five, Columbus is sixth, then it goes Ottawa, Detroit, Buffalo.
The Flyers are on record saying they want to turn things around quickly and nobody they get at five is going to help them next year. Aggression is in the Flyers DNA. You could argue No. 6 is found money for Columbus given they got it in the Jones deal from Chicago. The Jackets could move that selection in a play for Miller — not for nothing, an Ohio native who grew up right on the Pennsylvania border — and still draft a solid prospect at 12 with their own pick.
Ottawa actually seems like a wonderful fit, as Miller would be exactly the kind of veteran they’ve talked about adding to supplement the young core. The issue is, I can’t see the Sens taking a one-year swing on Miller and I can’t see the latter immediately signing on to stay in Canada’s capital for the next half-dozen years or so. Detroit has hit homeruns despite zero lottery luck the past three years with Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Simon Edvinsson; maybe they go for the shot-in-the-arm move and acquire immediate help. Buffalo had a strong finish to the season, has to keep the momentum going next year and, in addition to No. 9, hold the 16th and 28th picks. They could trade two first-rounders for Miller and still walk away with a fresh first-round prospect.
Heck, even the New Jersey Devils — another organization that desperately wants to surge forward next year — at No. 2 are interesting. That might be a bit much for Miller, but if Vancouver puts No. 15 in play and Miller would sign an extension to stay in Jersey, maybe that’s the foundation of a deal that works.