Amid trade rumours, Canucks believe JT Miller could still fit into team's future

Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau discusses the rumours that the team is shopping J.T. Miller, stating that Miller is one of the franchise cornerstones and that he hasn't heard from anyone around management about a potential trade as of yet.

VANCOUVER — Patrik Allvin is no pyromaniac. As the J.T. Miller trade-rumour inferno rages in various NHL markets, Allvin is nearer than almost anyone to the blaze. And the Vancouver Canucks general manager is holding a fire hose turned on full.

Allvin said Wednesday that not only is there no urgency to auction off the team’s leading scorer before the March 21 trade deadline, the new GM sees Miller as a player the Canucks, ideally, should try to keep.

The 28-year-old is under contract another season after this one at a bargain $5.25-million salary and isn’t eligible for unrestricted free agency until 2023. No wonder Allvin and Canucks president Jim Rutherford are in no hurry to trade their best forward.

One of the Canucks' former managers, Brian Burke, pointed out a generation ago that things can change with one phone call. Burkie also referenced a payphone and moving the franchise, but you get the idea.

Maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs or another team send a Brinks truck to the Canucks loaded with draft picks and A-level prospects to get Allvin to move Miller now, but the club isn’t exactly boxing up the forward’s sticks and skates and discounting No. 9 jerseys in the team store.

Physical, fast, skilled and versatile, Miller is the kind of elite player teams build around.

“Absolutely,” Allvin said. “We can control most of our players (contracts), except for Tyler Motte. In that regard, there is no rush at all. Regarding J.T. -- I've said it before -- I've been impressed with the way he plays, the way he cares. And I think he's been probably, since I've been here, the most consistent player.

“I think that's probably something we're planning as a staff, to sit down together this summer and see which guys are going into the last year of their deals. We want to see where they are, their mindset and what they want to do and if there is a fit here.”

One of the factors driving conjecture about Miller, besides a formidable and versatile skillset that has him on pace for a career-best season after 53 points in Vancouver’s first 50 games, is his age. The American turns 29 in March, will be 30 when his contract expires, and may be too old during his next deal to align with the evolution of a Canucks team built on a foundation of players now in their early- to mid-20s.

But Allvin believes Miller could still fit the team’s future.

“I hope so,” he said. “With his mindset and his drive, I hope he has another level to reach, too. I think he's probably matured a lot over the last couple of years, and I hope he knows how to take care of his body and you hope he can still find another level.”

What is indisputable amid the debate around Miller and others is that the Canucks, operating in LTIR and likely to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, are facing a salary-cap crisis. Both Rutherford and Allvin have said it is critically important for the Canucks to create some cap flexibility.

Motte, the speedy, tenacious checker and penalty-killer who is playing the best hockey of his career, is one of only two Canuck regulars due to become a UFA after this season. Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak is the other, and he has a full no-movement clause. Depth players Brad Hunt and Alex Chiasson will also be UFAs.

Allvin echoed Rutherford’s statement last month that the Canucks can’t afford to lose UFAs for nothing if there’s value in trading them, which was a key organizational failing during Jim Benning’s seven years as GM.

“I definitely agree with that, and especially in the position where we are right now,” Allvin said. “We're not in the playoffs even. Coming from Pittsburgh, it’s different where you have Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust going through the last year of their contracts. But they're still a top team in the league and maybe you push through there because you have a chance to win.

“We're in a different situation here. We're not there right now, so I would not feel comfortable seeing players just walk away and you don't get anything in return. But it’s easier said than done.”

In his interview with Sportsnet, Allvin said he likes what he has seen from Bruce Boudreau, but it’s too early to talk about what should be done with the head coach who arrived in Vancouver eight weeks before the GM.

Besides making a decision on Motte, Allvin must stickhandle impending restricted free agent Brock Boeser and the $7.5-million qualifying offer the winger is due. The QO is not only a non-starter for the Canucks as a launch point for a future contract, but a major drag on Boeser’s trade value.

As with Miller, however, the Canucks can take time on the Boeser file by seeing how things play out this summer and try to re-sign him long-term at an average salary significantly lower than his qualifying offer.

But eventually, Allvin will have to make difficult and unpopular choices about who stays and who goes.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That's the tough part in this business. I mean, you want to believe in your players, and you want to believe that they're going to get better and all that. But at some point, you've just got to face the reality.”

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