5 Potential Trades and Landing Spots for Vancouver Canucks Forward J.T. Miller
The Vancouver Canucks are off to a disappointing start to this season. With just eight wins and 18 points in 24 games, they are mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Their poor performance has generated plenty of recent trade speculation about several core players such as Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller. The latter, however, is the only one to be directly linked to another club. On Nov. 23, The Vancouver Province's Ben Kuzma reported the Minnesota Wild had Miller in their crosshairs.
The Wild probably aren't the only club calling the Canucks to express an interest in Miller. The 28-year-old center is a versatile two-way forward who can also skate on the wing. His experience, leadership and grit would draw considerable interest from playoff contenders.
Miller wouldn't be a postseason rental player, either. Cap Friendly indicates he's signed through 2022-23 with an annual average value of $5.25 million. He also lacks no-trade protection, giving the Canucks a wide field of potential trade partners should they made him available.
Assuming the Canucks were willing to trade Miller for another player, it would have to be a dollar-in, dollar-out swap. They have maxed out their salary-cap space and placed sidelined players such as Micheal Ferland and Brandon Sutter on long-term injured reserve in order to sit above the $81.5 million salary cap.
It's uncertain whether the Canucks intend to shop Miller or anyone else at this time. Team owner Francesco Aquilini could decide to replace general manager Jim Benning or head coach Travis Green rather than shake up the roster. Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the possibility of a core player such as Miller getting moved before the March 21 trade deadline.
Here are five possible landing spots for Miller and the type of return the Canucks could seek from each club. You can weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Miller could be a good fit with the Columbus Blue Jackets. They still haven't found a suitable replacement for Pierre-Luc Dubois after trading him to the Winnipeg Jets last season. With $10.7 million in projected salary-cap space, they have sufficient room to take on Miller's cap hit.
Jackets captain Boone Jenner fills the first-line center role, but that's not a role the versatile two-way forward is best suited for. Promising rookie Cole Sillinger could one day fill that position, but he's not ready for that responsibility. Jack Roslovic showed some potential last season after joining the Jackets in the Dubois trade, but he's struggling to put up points this season.
Miller would automatically become the Jackets' first-line center, allowing them to shift Jenner to the second line as a center or winger. He could establish strong offensive chemistry with Patrick Laine once the 23-year-old left winger recovers from his oblique injury. His addition could help the Jackets become serious playoff contenders this season and next.
The Canucks could seek one of the Jackets' two first-round picks in the 2022 draft. They could also likely target a promising youngster like Silliger or Adam Boqvist or a prospect such as Kent Johnson or Corson Ceulemans. Sillinger, Boqvist and Johnson could be untouchable, but Ceulemans and a first-rounder could be a worthwhile offer.
The Minnesota Wild are riding high in the NHL standings, sitting atop the Central Division and among the top three clubs in the Western Conference. However, they lack a true first-line center. While Ryan Hartman is filling that role, he's not an established first-liner like Miller. That could become an issue for the Wild as this season rolls along.
On Nov. 23, The Vancouver Province's Ben Kuzma reported the Wild had Miller in their trade crosshairs. He speculated they could be fishing for a player to help them get over the playoff hump. The Wild haven't reached the second round of the playoffs since 2015. While their roster has undergone considerable change since then, their postseason woes remain a nagging issue.
Given the Canucks' limited salary-cap space, the Wild might have to offer up a player with a comparable annual average value. Kuzma suggested winger Kevin Fiala, whose $5.1 million salary for this season is close to Miller's $5.25 million. A somewhat streaky scoring winger with three 20-goal seasons on his resume, the 25-year-old is also a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights.
It could take more than Fiala for the Wild to land Miller. The Canucks could use a second-round pick in 2022 after trading theirs to the Arizona Coyotes in their offseason deal for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland. If Fiala isn't available, perhaps a package of a second-rounder and a quality prospect such as Marco Rossi or Matthew Boldy might get a deal done.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils shocked the hockey world in the offseason by signing free-agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year, $63 million contract. It wouldn't be surprising if they decided to pursue someone like Miller to improve their playoff chances over the next couple of seasons. On Dec. 2, TSN's Darren Dreger reported general manager Tom Fitzgerald would like to add a scoring winger or two.
Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are the Devils' top young forwards, followed by Yegor Sharangovich and promising rookie Dawson Mercer. However, they're lacking an experienced leader in his scoring prime like Miller. His ability to play center or wing and fill a spot on the power-play or penalty kill would make him a useful addition to their ranks.
Miller is already filling a top-six role with the Canucks, skating with teammates such as Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. It shouldn't require much of an adjustment to do the same with the Devils, who can afford his $5.25 million annual average value with $8.8.million in projected cap space this season.
The Canucks could ask for Mercer or a top prospect such as Alexander Holtz or Luke Hughes, but the Devils aren't likely to part with them. They could be forced to part with 6'6" defenseman Kevin Bahl or a forward such as Nolan Foote, Tyce Thompson or Chase Stillman plus a first-round pick.
New York Islanders
After reaching the 2020 Eastern Conference Final and last season's semifinal, the New York Islanders were considered a Cup contender entering 2021-22. Instead, they have sunk toward the bottom of the standings.
A popgun offense is threatening to derail their season. Their 1.83 goals-per-game average is the league's second-lowest. Injuries to scorers such as Brock Nelson and a recent COVID-19 outbreak have contributed to their woeful production. Nevertheless, they could use someone with Miller's skills to provide a much-needed boost to their offense.
Miller's ability to play center or left wing would provide the Islanders with the option of playing him as a second-line center or skating along with Mathew Barzal on the first line. The Canucks could seek Noah Dobson as part of the return. The 21-year-old defenseman has had difficulty becoming a regular top-four rearguard and might benefit from a change of scenery.
Salary-cap space, however, would be a sticking point. The Isles have maxed out their cap space and sit over the $81.5 million cap after placing blueliner Ryan Pulock on long-term injury reserve. General manager Lou Lamoriello could try to entice the Canucks into absorbing half of Miller's $5.25 million cap hit with a draft pick and perhaps include pending free agent Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5 million) in the deal.
New York Rangers
Miller was the New York Rangers' first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2011 NHL draft. He spent nearly six seasons with the Blueshirts until he was traded by former general manager Jeff Gorton to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Feb. 26, 2018 trade deadline. With the Rangers sitting second in the Metropolitan Division, current GM Chris Drury is reportedly looking to bolster his lineup. Perhaps he would consider bringing back Miller.
On Nov. 18, TSN's Darren Dreger reported Drury was in the market for a "middle-six forward" who could skate on the second or third lines after Sammy Blais suffered a season-ending knee injury. Miller's versatility could be a fit here, perhaps as their second-line center while shifting Ryan Strome to their third line.
The Canucks won't want to take on much salary in a Miller deal. They could seek a promising young defenseman like K'Andre Miller or Nils Lundkvist as part of the return to shore up their blue-line depth. A more tempting target could be top prospect Braden Schneider. They could also seek one of the Rangers' two second-round picks in the 2022 NHL draft.
With $6.1 million in projected salary-cap space, the Rangers have plenty of room to take on Miller's $5.25 million cap hit. However, they only have $9.7 million in projected space for 2022-23. That could complicate efforts to re-sign or replace restricted free agents like Blais, wingers Kaapo Kakko and Julien Gauthier and backup Alexandar Georgiev unless Drury frees up some room next summer.
Standings (as of Dec. 4, 2021) via NHL.com. Salary-cap information via CapFriendly, line combinations via Daily Faceoff and draft pick info via Puckpedia. Additional info via Hockey Reference and Elite Prospects.