Quick Shifts: Should the Maple Leafs trade for J.T. Miller?

Vancouver Canucks' J.T. Miller celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 12, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Just when you thought the Stanley Cup Final would be over in a blink…

1. J.T. Miller is available.

Which means the opportunity for a bold move is on the table as well.

The cap-crunched Vancouver Canucks will not be able to satisfy core forwards Miller, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser — all of whom are due for a long-term financial commitment before the 2023-24 season starts.

So, it was not entirely shocking to hear Nick Kypreos drop word Friday that GM Patrik Allvin is listening to offers on Miller, who has no trade protection and one year remaining at a friendly $5.25-million cap hit.

Top-10 scorers don’t hit the market every day. Miller, 29, finished ninth overall in scoring with a career-best 32 goals and 99 points.

Vancouver is said to be searching for young (i.e., not-so-costly) talent in return for the only Canuck who landed on a Hart ballot.

Which team could use Miller? Uh, all of them.

He produces, he plays hard, he’s a pain, and his style lends itself to playoff success. He’s a left wing who can sub in at centre.

In short, he’s the optimal big-splash target for the Toronto Maple Leafs — if they’re aggressive enough to go for it.

There are two significant hiccups here.

Affording Miller’s next contract would pose a serious issue for whomever signs it, which is why the Canucks are considering the move. A less cap-constricted club like Columbus or Detroit might make more sense in this regard.

Kyle Dubas has long been reluctant to trade for players without term, and the one-year rental of Tyson Barrie surely didn’t change his mind on that philosophy.

The Leafs do have young assets with value, though. Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren at the NHL level, Nick Robertson and some other prospects on the rise. Vancouver native Alexander Kerfoot and Justin Holl would be candidates to help balance the books on this purely hypothetical deal. (Maybe the Canucks can toss in Luke Schenn as well.)

Yes, A Miller trade would pose a great risk. And there is less urgency for the trading partner to get this done quickly. Miller could always be a mid-season rental, whereas Boeser needs a contract this summer.

All that said, with Dubas facing the most pressured season of his career, how do you at least not explore a fit for a forward that addresses your needs right now?

2. The world juniors had long served as a motivator for potential 2022 No. 1 pick Shane Wright. He finally made the team, and the tournament got cancelled due to the virus.

Does Wright expect to skate in the mulligan tournament this August?

Well, it’s complicated.

“It's always been on the radar. I think any time you can play for your home country, represent your country at the world juniors, it's never something you can really pass up too easily. We'll see what happens. I think there's decisions to be made with what my [NHL] team wants, but I think that if an opportunity comes like that, it's really hard to pass that up," Wright says.

Montreal — or whoever nabs Wright — may not want such a prized asset risking injury right before his first pro training camp. Which makes January’s abrupt end sting.

"I would call it a disappointment. A lot of sadness just having it cancelled. But also pride. Pride I made that team,” says Wright, who failed to make Team Canada’s cut in 2021. “I was part of that team, but obviously we only got two games. It ended way quicker than we would've liked.

“I made that team. I was a part of that team. So, that's something I can take away from that for sure.”

3. No issue with any of the NHL Awards winners, but I did find one result interesting.

Roman Josi finished a close second to Norris winner Cale Makar, the first Norris champ to not receive the most first-place votes since Erik Karlsson (2015). Not only did Josi receive more first-place Norris votes than Makar, he also ranked significantly higher in the Hart tally (241-48 in voting points).

Funny, this is the second straight year that the Norris runner-up had more Hart votes than the Norris winner.

In 2021, Adam Fox won the Norris, and Makar finished second. But in Hart voting, Makar was 12th and Fox was 13th.

I imagine this is because of the Hart’s wording: player most valuable to his team.

The Predators don’t make the playoffs without Josi.

4. We’re one or two games away from determining which is stronger, the Corey Perry Curse or the Pat Maroon Charm?

“The boys want to win it for him really bad. He deserves it,” Tampa winger Maroon says of Perry, who was with Cup finalists Montreal last year and Dallas the season before. “He brings a different animal to your locker room.”

One is going for fourpeat, the other at risk of losing three straight finals.

“I think anyone in that position would be a little bit haunted. For him, he’s had such a great career. To be as close as he’s been the in the past three years and not get the ultimate goal, that’s something as a team — we obviously want to win, but it’s important for us to win (for him) as well,” Tampa's Alex Killorn says.

What do you say, Maroon? How do you explain 15 consecutive series wins?

“It never gets old to me," says Maroon, who won the Cup with St. Louis in 2019 before joining Tampa for their back-to-back run. "You just love the challenges. You love the bumps and bruises guys go through. Love or sacrifice. You love the happiness in the room after a series win. You love the guys when they get off and someone makes a big blocked shot or someone's dumpin’ the puck in and guys are cheering."

Do feel blessed? Fated? Lucky? How do you possibly explain your run?

“There's a lot of luck when you go through championship runs. You gotta get that big save at the big time, that goal at the right time. You can call it ‘puck luck,’ call it whatever you want. But for me, I have a good support system that's really helped me get through it.

“I don't know if it's the right place, right time for me right now, but I'm not complaining, by any means. I'm gonna keep riding this as much as I can until the NHL kicks me out of the league.

So yeah, I mean, there's a little bit of luck. There's a little bit of faith in there. But for me, just kind of keeping riding this high.”

5. As an Atlantic Division–based writer, I’ll be happy to get some more questions in with scrum master Paul Maurice. The game is better when he’s involved.

At the same time, what more could Andrew Burnette have done to stay in Florida?

Under his guidance, the Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy and their first playoff series in forever. The interim coach was also a finalist for the Jack Adams.

Did he get outcoached by Jon Cooper and in Round 2? Does he have more to learn? No doubt.

But to leave him in limbo while so many of the other coaching vacancies got filled is a tough look.

You gotta wonder if Winnipeg could be a fit, but the Jets’ aggressive interest in Barry Trotz suggests they are keen for a more veteran voice.

6. Routine playoff hero Ondrej Palat was waiting on pins and needles in his hometown in Czechia last summer during the Kraken expansion draft.

“We didn’t know what’s going to happen. Then Seattle took Yanni [Gourde]. I was happy that I got to stay in Tampa for at least another year,” Palat says.

Unfortunate as it may be for the Lightning, who drafted Palat 208th overall 11 years ago, there’s a chance this will be his last tour.

“It’s in my head,” the impending UFA admits. “But I’m just focused on the final, and then there’s a time for the next step.”

Like Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman before him, Palat (a $5.3 million cap hit today) is a versatile champion who will has a chance to make more money elsewhere.

Bit of a shame that a candidate for career-long Lightning might get squeezed out in the name of parity.

Cooper remembers the tough decision when this late-rounder arrived at AHL training camp in Norfolk. The club debated whether to keep him or return him for another year of junior.

“There's something about this kid. Let's keep him, not send him back to junior. We’re gonna play him, but let's get our hands on him and see what we can do,” Cooper recalls.

“He didn't speak English very well, plus he wasn't confident with it. So, he was super quiet. And as he tells me quite often, he remembers every game I healthy-scratched him early in his career.

“And I say, ‘I never healthy scratched you.’

“So we always get this argument, but I think he may have sat out a couple of games, only when it was early in his career. But when we got him in, what you're seeing today is what we saw in him.”

7. First-round prospect Connor Geekie (younger brother of Kraken forward Morgan) interviewed with 17 or 18 teams at the NHL Combine.

Almost all of them laughed when he told them he came from a small Manitoba town (Strathclair) of 104 people, but one interview stood out most.

“Walking into the room with Steve Yzerman is pretty intimidating. That one was a little different,” smiles Geekie, who grew up a Red Wings fan.

“My dad liked Detroit, too, so it was definitely pretty special to walk in [and see Shawn] Horcoff, [Kris] Draper. You're in awe, for sure.”

Geekie’s first impression of Yzerman?

“He’s a nice guy, right? He’s a good guy. But he’s old school, too. That’s what makes him so good and successful at his job.”

8. We’re all now very aware that Cooper doesn’t believe it’s his job to police too-many-men penalties.

But he doesn’t think coaches should be responsible for challenging offside calls either.

A pivotal moment in Game 3 occurred when Cooper’s correct challenge of a Colorado offside took the night’s first goal off the board. The issue was, Cooper didn’t signal a challenge until well after the horn sounded.

Nathan MacKinnon questioned how much time it took for Tampa Bay to ask for a review: “I don't know how long they have, but I don't think it's three minutes. So, I think the refs just have to drop it.”

Cooper said that coaches are at the mercy of the replays available and would rather the call be made by someone with all camera angles.

“Somebody could unplug something up top, we can have no replays, and something that is a black-and-white call might be missed,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if that should be in our hands. If it’s either onside or offside, I just don’t know why I have to make that decision when the stakes are this high.

“At the very end, an angle came in. It was an end-zone angle, and I don’t know where we got it from. The [Tampa video coaches] inside couldn’t tell if it was white [ice] or if it was grainy. And I said, ‘Well, let’s go with the white.’ ”

“In the end, everyone wants to get the call right, and the right call was offside. But it can be a little nerve-racking, because you just don’t know what feeds are going to come across.” 

9. Incredible gesture by Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik, who flew all the organization’s full-time workers to Denver and bought them (not cheap) tickets for Game 5 — at the risk of seeing the opposition parade around the Cup.

Crowding section 322, the Tampa employees did not hold back in enemy territory, turning heads with their “VA-SI!” chants.

“I haven't been a part of other organizations, so for me to throw around ‘the greatest owner in sports,’ I just haven't seen what other owners are like,” Cooper said.

“But if there's one better than him, I'd like to know who it is. Because I would sign up. I wouldn't leave — because I'm not leaving this guy. But he is a remarkable human being, he and his family. It is never about the Viniks. It's always about everybody else. And he's a treasure. That guy is gold.”

10. Even as the Avalanche soar under Jared Bednar, Joe Sakic will aggressively defend Bednar’s predecessor, Patrick Roy.

Once a teammate, always a teammate.

“Patty was a successful coach. We had 112 points that year [2013-14, when Roy won the Jack Adams]. And when he left, it was just a choice. I know there's perception that there were issues [between us],” Sakic said at the Cup Final.

“I mean, there was a philosophy change. But we didn't have any animosity toward one another. Some people tried to drum some up, but we were all good from the get-go.”

A reporter suggested to Sakic that he and Bednar are more similar in their even-keel approach, whereas Roy is fiery.

“Sometimes that's good, though,” Sakic countered. “Even as teammates, not every player agrees with everything, ya know? And you're a team, and you sit together, and you find a way.”

The approachable Hall of Famer believes he manages with a “take it as it is” philosophy.

“Even just in general in life, to kind of not have the roller coaster. Just kind of be steady and just go with the flow,” he said. “For me, that's who I am.”

11. In turning down free beer for life, Trotz exhibited a level of will power most of could never reach.

“It doesn't mean I'm not going to coach. Just not going to coach right now. I've been doing this for 25 straight years, and I've put a lot of stuff on the backburner, and I think it's time. The one thing I do know, and it's a mistake that everybody makes, is you think you have time, and you don't. And so this is my time when I can get to a lot of things I've put on the backburner. I have to take care of those, for peace of mind for everything, so I will be 100 per cent in if I get back into it. And I'll be a better coach for it,” Trotz told NHL.com’s Tim Campbell Friday.

"I had to turn away free beer and free tickets and all that stuff. I know I'm a good coach. But you can't be a good coach if you're not fully committed. You can't be at this game. So, I'll use this year to do what I need to do with my family, and if I get back into coaching, I'll be fully in."

Side note: Great get by Campbell. The long-serving Winnipeg-based reporter was fêted at a retirement dinner the night prior to his Trotz exclusive. One more for the road.

12. The Avalanche had already rallied to tie Game 5 at Ball Arena twice. The score was 2-2 in the third period. TV timeout on deck. Lord Stanley’s Cup in the barn.

I grabbed my phone, my finger hovering over the record button. I wanted a video of this rambunctious, buzzing arena singing along to Blink-182’s All the Small Things, as per tradition.

And yet? The tune never arrived.

“It's all based on feel. It doesn't have to do if we're winning or losing or whatever. It's all about whether it feels right to play it at that point in the game,” in-house selector DJ Triple T told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.

I don’t want to criticize DJ Triple T. His song choices are trumping those played at Amalie Arena in the final. But it sure did feel like the right time to drop the needle.

Friday night, and a rowdy crowd was buzzing louder than when Triple T played the anthem late in a tied Game 1.

Maybe he was saving Small Things for a go-ahead (i.e., Cup-clinking) goal, a crescendo that never arrived.

Nothing wrong with an encore, though.

In the immortal words of the O’Jays: Give the people what they want.

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