Updated Top Trades, Landing Spots for Canucks Forward J.T. Miller

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIIJanuary 22, 2022

Updated Top Trades, Landing Spots for Canucks Forward J.T. Miller

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    It's been a tale of two seasons for the Vancouver Canucks, and that puts them in a tough spot with J.T. Miller. Under the guidance of old head coach Travis Green, the club limped out of the gate to the tune of an 8-15-2 start. 

    The team's best players, except for pretty much everyone besides Miller, all looked totally flat and the campaign was almost a lost cause six weeks in. But on Dec. 6, the Canucks cleaned house, bringing in Bruce Boudreau to try to salvage 2021-22. Vancouver has gone 10-3-1 since the shift, coming together as one of the hottest teams in the NHL.

    Yet the Canucks are only now at .500, a testament to just how hard it is to climb out of early-season holes. This turnaround presents new general manager Jim Rutherford a bit of a conundrum. MoneyPuck.com gives Vancouver a 17.6 percent chance to make the dance; a long shot but not impossible.

    If the Canucks continue to win, it might be difficult to consider moving Miller, who is their sparkplug and has been their most consistent player, even when Green was behind the bench.

    The reality is, though, that his value will likely never be higher. If Rutherford and Co. are considering some sort of retooling, it would have to begin by moving Miller ahead of the March 21 trade deadline. He is under contract through the end of 2023 at a team-friendly $5.25 million cap hit.

    He's scored at nearly a point-per-game clip over the last three seasons, and high-end contending teams would likely pay a king's ransom for the forward's services. Prospect guru Scott Wheeler of The Athletic recently ranked Vancouver's prospect pool 28th. Trading Miller would go a long way toward changing that.

    Let's take a look at a few places where the Ohio native could land.  

New York Rangers

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    Until the New York Rangers secure the help that they've been looking for since Sammy Blais was injured in mid-November, they'll be in just about all trade rumors concerning forwards. 

    Frank Seravalli of Sportsnet recently spoke about Miller possibly landing with the Rangers on the Canucks Central podcast, stating the following (h/t to ForeverBlueshirts.com for the transcription):

    "One of the teams that has really been all over J.T. Miller to bring him back is the New York Rangers. Are there younger pieces on the Rangers' roster that they’d be willing to part with rather than just draft picks? And how important would it be for them to be in a spot where they have that extra year of J.T. Miller and not have to sweat (what his next contract) looks like."

    Rutherford is already on the record saying that he wants to help the Canucks get better in most areas. One has to assume that the GM wants to add a strong young player or two in any trade for Miller, which is why the Rangers make a lot of sense as a trade partner.

    They could dangle 6'2", 202-pound defenseman Braden Schneider, for starters. The 20-year-old defenseman could skate alongside Quinn Hughes for the next decade-plus, cementing the top pairing in Vancouver for years to come.

    The Vitali Kravtsov situation has yet to resolve itself after the 2018 ninth overall selection requested a trade in October after failing to make the Rangers out of camp. Rutherford wants to add scoring depth, and securing a skater like Kravtsov could give the Canucks that down the line.

    Miller is a known commodity in New York after breaking into the league with the team back in 2012-13, and he'd be a great addition for the Rangers as they continue to play a bit above their heads in the Metropolitan Division.

Colorado Avalanche

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    For the last month or so, word on the street has been that the Colorado Avalanche could look to add defensive depth ahead of the deadline. Trading for some aging bottom-pairing defenseman is so tired, though. Do you know what would be wired instead? 

    If the Avalanche decided to trade for another top-six forward like Miller. It's the same logic that we used when we wrote earlier this week that Tomas Hertl could be a great fit in Colorado. It's also worth noting that this is 100 percent speculation on our part.

    Making a move for someone like Miller would help in two ways. For starters, and most importantly, it would give head coach Jared Bednar another top-line penalty killer to roll out on a nightly basis. The PK has quietly been this team's biggest weakness all year, and it just won't go far in the postseason with a 75 percent kill rate.

    It'd be fair to point out that Vancouver's penalty kill is the worst in the NHL this season, but those numbers are being dragged down by the first several weeks when Green was at the helm. Miller is a tenacious forechecker and could provide a badly needed boost in this area.

    The center would also insulate the Avalanche against any kind of regression from Nazem Kadri. Maybe he keeps putting up points like prime Evgeni Malkin until the end of the year. Maybe he doesn't. He'll have to slow down eventually, however, and having a top-end pivot waiting in the wings to pick up that slack would be a boon.

    This is the Avs' year to win the Stanley Cup. Acknowledging that Kadri isn't usually a 100-plus-point scoring threat would be wise for them.   

Minnesota Wild

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    Back when the Cancuks' season looked like a lost cause, the Minnesota Wild checked in about the possibility of acquiring Miller, according to Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province. The Wild are still entrenched as a postseason threat out of the Central Division.

    Ryan Hartman has been one of this season's best stories, suddenly emerging as a No. 1 pivot and showing tremendous chemistry with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. How much better would the top-six group look with Miller skating on the second line, though?

    That'd push Joel Eriksson Ek, who is tremendously difficult to play against, down to the third line, giving the Wild a pretty strong group of centers heading into the playoffs. We aren't sure how the money would work, seeing as how Minnesota will be in *checks notes* total cap hell over the next three seasons. 

    It's something that could actually work in both the Wild and Canucks' favors, though. Minnesota would probably ask Vancouver to retain some salary, which means that it would acquire more futures in the trade.

    Meanwhile, the Wild would get an outstanding forward for around $3 million a season—that could be incredibly valuable as they attempt to navigate their cap situation following the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this past summer.

    The Wild won't have many opportunities to acquire outside talent in the coming years. They might as well take the shot while it's here.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    We go from three teams with postseason aspirations to one that is less than a season into a rebuild. We aren't sure if the Columbus Blue Jackets would be willing to move futures for Miller. He's not particularly old at 28, but he might not fit in with their projected contention window either.

    Still, teams don't contend for much besides lotto picks in the NHL without centers, and while the Blue Jackets have some stellar prospects on the way at that position, they aren't here yet. And once they do arrive, the organization couldn't safely assume that they'd take to the league as quickly as Cole Sillinger has.

    The 18-year-old has done everything that has been asked of him this season. He has continued to earn head coach Brad Larsen's trust, but there's simply no denying that Miller would immediately become the best pivot in the organization.

    Arguably ever, with all due respect to Pierre Luc-Dubois and the 239 contests he stuck around for.

    Not to read too much into it, but Miller is from Ohio, and for a team that is trying to shake the perception that stars don't want to play in Columbus, acquiring someone who is familiar with the Midwest might not be a bad move. The Blue Jackets have cap space to play with and badly need help in the offensive zone.

    Depending on what Vancouver's ask is, Miller could be the kind of pickup that allows the Blue Jackets to turn a corner quicker than they would have otherwise. A one-two punch of Miller and Sillinger with Kent Johnson on the way doesn't sound too bad.

Vancouver Canucks

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    We'd be remiss if we didn't include Vancouver as a possible "landing spot" for Miller. After all, it's not exactly a foregone conclusion that Rutherford will trade his most effective forward. While it would make sense from a long-term perspective, teams don't always care all that much about what's going to happen two or three years down the line.

    The Canucks would be a worse hockey team without Miller, straight up. And for an organization that is just starting to get things back on the rails, perhaps trading away a heart and soul, point-per-game alternate captain isn't the way to go.

    It appears that the Canucks are starting to rebuild an identity after bottoming out with Green as the coach. How negatively would trading Miller affect the forward momentum they're building now? Sure, they could use more prospects and scoring depth, but moving this particular player would send a crystal clear signal to everyone on the roster and the fanbase.

    They would be signaling that pushing for a playoff spot isn't a priority this season and next, and for a team that has made the second round once in the last decade, that might not be a positive thing. Vancouver doesn't have to trade Miller now.

    He'd still have value during the offseason or if things went south again in 2022-23. With that in mind, it almost seems as likely that Miller sticks with the Canucks beyond the trade deadline as it does that he lands in New York or elsewhere.