Dan Murphy's Canucks Mailbag: What changes are on the horizon?

Iain MacIntyre and Dan Murphy discuss J.T. Miller’s comments on his play and on-ice demeanor.

This week we'll get right into it...

J.T. Miller was a huge topic of discussion on Wednesday. Heck, Miller has been a big topic of discussion since he arrived in Vancouver via trade.

Last season there was nothing but praise for the hard-nosed forward who led the Canucks in points and was named Most Exciting Player by the fans. And make no mistake, he earned all of that praise with his play and his style of play.

This season has been a different story.

From the get-go something seemed off with Miller. There was, of course, the COVID scare, for which he had to sit out the first week of the season. And then when he returned, he seemed out of sync somehow. Sure, he was racking up the points, but he didn't look like the same player as last season. His body language, and his actual language, has been poor at times. He’s giving the puck away at a greater rate than any Canucks forward. Wednesday Travis Green emphatically backed his first line winger (even though he bumped him to the third line in practice), and tried to put some of the blame on himself.

“I think I’m giving him too many minutes, and it’s hard not to when you’ve got a player that plays the way he does," Green said. "He’s also relatively young in a leadership role and managing his emotions is something that I think he’s still learning. But I’ve seen it a lot over the years; highly competitive guys, man, they hate losing and it gets to them and sometimes they react in a way that isn’t perfect. And as coaches, we need to continue to work with players like that and improve them and make them better in those areas, but also realize how good of a player he is. I’m not going to sit here and rip on J.T. Miller at all.”

Green didn’t stop there.

“J.T. is an emotional guy. He’s a high-energy guy, highly-competitive guy, wears his heart on his sleeve. We talk about things internally a lot that we don’t necessarily talk out in the public. I will say that he’s a big part of our group. This is a guy you love to have on your team and I love having him on our team.”

I don't think fans have a problem with Miller being frustrated. Breaking sticks and dropping f-bombs isn't ideal, but if it's in anger for not performing at the level he sets for himself, you can live with it. If it's because he hates losing so much, then so be it. Still, he knows it isn’t the greatest look.

“Obviously, you don’t want to do that. But I play on the edge and always have. I think it makes me the best version of myself as a player. I’m trying not to do that, but when you play a lot of minutes and we’re not winning, like I said, it’s emotionally exhausting and it’s frustrating. I really just care about winning and that’s it. I’m hard on myself; I know if I play well, it gives our team a better chance to win. And obviously, nothing’s really been crazy smooth this year for myself or the team. It’s a frustrating game and I’m not going to apologize for being a frustrated hockey player.”

He shouldn’t have to apologize for being frustrated. Miller wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t disappointed with the way this Canucks season has gone.

What can't happen from leaders (and Miller is a leader on this team) is coasting back to the bench in almost a sulking manner or showing up a teammate when you didn't get the pass you were expecting. This is where Miller knows he must improve. He shouldn't douse the fire that makes him tick, but he has to make sure he sets the right example and the right tone for the players who look up to him on this team.

Miller is an extremely important player and if the Canucks are going to move towards the team they aspire to be, they’ll need the best version of him. And if that comes with a side of anger, no one is going to complain.

I don’t think this changes things one bit. There was some noise around Jim Benning prior to the Calgary four-game mini-series, but Francesco Aquilini squashed any rumours with a series of tweets on Feb. 13.

Maybe Aquilini had been thinking about a management change, but realized how difficult that might be in-season. Who knows? It’s all speculation at this point. Regardless, I don’t think anything is going to happen with GMJB right now. We know ownership probably doesn’t want to pay for two GMs in this current financial climate. Benning still has two years left on his deal after this season.

At some point, though, you have to think about consumer confidence. And you can bet it isn't super high right now, to say the least. So, let’s just say things continue to go pear shaped here in the short term. Is Aquilini going to let GMJB fire the coach when he’s not even sure he’s going to keep the GM past this season? If there is a possibility of bringing in a new GM, you would certainly want that guy to make the decision on the head coach.

And really, what would firing Green do right now? Does anyone believe it would turn the season magically around? There is zero indication the players have quit on Green and company. That doesn’t mean the coaches are totally blameless in the way this season has gone. But I’m of the belief that Benning made this bed, and the team is his responsibility.

I would not rule it out.

I know some fans think the Canucks missed the boat in not trying to replace Manny Malhotra with Burrows this season. I don't feel Burrows was ready to move back west. Or more specifically, that he was ready to move his family back here at this point in his life.

Alex and his wife Nancy have three young kids, and they have tons of family support where they are living right now. It's a great situation. But he does have a deep connection to this organization, its fans and the city. And I know it would be a desirable landing spot for Burr a little further down the road. It would be a popular hire in any capacity around these parts, that's for sure.

There are a few wrinkles in the Podkolzin timeline. First off, his contract technically expires at the end of the World Championships, which run from May 6 to June 21. So if he's selected to play for Russia at that tournament (assuming the tourney isn't cancelled) then the big Russian kid will not be suiting up for the Canucks this season. Given the fact he was recently chosen to play for Russia at the Euro Hockey Tour (he was named an assistant captain and led the tournament in scoring with eight points), there is a good chance Russia will take him for the Worlds.

However, if he is not selected by Russia, or the tournament is cancelled, then you have a decision to make. Benning has indicated he would like to sign Podkolzin when his KHL season ends on April 30. The problem is, unless the Canucks make the playoffs, Podkolzin wouldn't get into any games because of Canada's COVID-19 quarantine rules. Vancouver's regular season ends on May 8.

Why wait for the deadline? Certainly this is something management should be looking at right now. You have to believe Tanner Pearson is the most desirable of Vancouver’s impending UFAs. Pearson in a third line role on a good team would be a fantastic fit. And according to our very own Elliotte Friedman, the Arizona Coyotes may already be interested in kicking the tires.

Now as for Brandon Sutter? He sure seems like a “depth piece” that teams loading up for a run would be looking to acquire -- a centreman who is good in the circle and can kill penalties. But how many other guys who are going to be available fit that description? Cap space is going to be an issue with many teams this season, even at the deadline. Alex Edler would likely be in demand. However he has a NMC, and would have to waive that for the Canucks to trade him. He might be open to that, but don’t hold your breath.

I wish I had an answer for this. I think it’s clear Jake Virtanen could use a fresh start. It also seems he has used up all his lives with the current coaching staff. My guess is that Benning has been trying to move him for the past couple of weeks. Friedman reported that something with the Ducks was in the works, but Virtanen’s salary next season was probably holding things up. His cap hit next season is a palatable $2.55 million, but he’s owed $3.4 million and that is going to be a problem for a lot of teams kicking the tires on JV.

The time to move Virtanen was likely around the draft. If you can move him now, the return is not going to be as much as what you would have gotten then, and perhaps the only reason you do it now is to free up cap space for next season. A buyout is another option. And given Virtanen’s age, it is a decent option if ownership agrees to take on more dead money. This from the Athletic’s Harm Dayal:

“To calculate the buyout cap hit, you start by taking Virtanen’s original cap hit ($2.55 million) and subtract the original base salary ($3 million), which amounts to negative-$450,000. That number gets added to the buyout salary ($500,000) and you have your hit of $50,000 -- that’s how much he would cost against the cap in 2021-2022.”

That’s minimal, even though that number climbs to $500,000 the season after.

I became a brand ambassador for Haywood Golf last summer. 4-PW, 50, 54, and 60 wedges. It’s a Vancouver company with a solid back story. The clubs look absolutely stellar and perform very well (don’t just take it from me).

I was playing Titleist AP2s prior to Haywood and my handicap didn’t change after the switch. Which is not an indictment of the brand. In fact, probably the opposite. Because of COVID it was almost impossible to practice last summer because you weren’t allowed to get to the course more than 10 minutes prior to the tee time. I look forward to getting some good practice sessions in this year (I hope) to really get a good feel for the clubs. I went with the player improvement clubs instead of the blades because, let’s be honest, I could barely play the butter knives when I was at my best in the mid-'90s.

I did enjoy me some gansta rap back in the day. In fact, Straight Outta Compton dropped pretty much the day I took off for my first year of University. So it got some serious play. As far as hip hop goes though, I was more of a fan of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. That was more my speed.

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