The likelihood of an offseason J.T. Miller trade increases with each day that passes without a contract extension. As colleague Thomas Drance reported, the Canucks understand that they’d be taking on a ton of risk if they continue holding onto Miller without an extension beyond the next two to three weeks. Vancouver doesn’t have a lot of time left to make a proactive decision.
Further to that, on Sunday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman posited that “it’s going to be too hard to get an extension done” with Miller. All it takes is one phone call to transform a negotiation for the better, so there’s obviously no guarantee Miller leaves, but at this juncture, it certainly feels more likely that he’ll be traded than not.
What could the Canucks realistically fetch in a Miller trade? Which teams could be interested and what assets do they have? Let’s explore that as well as some key market dynamics to keep an eye on.
What could Miller’s trade value be?
One way to gauge the ballpark range of Miller’s trade value is by seeing what teams have paid in recent history for similar top-line forwards. I also narrowed the pool to filter out any forwards under the age of 25, as the age and team control factors would be too dissimilar to Miller, who’s 29 and a year away from UFA.
Miller is better than a lot of players on this list, but he’s also the oldest of the entire group.
Kevin Fiala and Sam Reinhart were both RFAs one year away from being UFAs. Both netted very similar returns in the form of a first-round pick and top prospect. In Fiala’s case, the Wild were able to acquire L.A.’s 19th pick this year and an excellent right-handed defence prospect in Brock Faber. Miller’s currently better than Fiala, who scored 85 points in 82 games last season, and can play centre which is a premium position, so the Canucks should aim higher even though Fiala’s younger.
Jack Eichel is a franchise centre and was dealt while only 25 and locked up long-term for four more years, making him one of the most valuable trade assets to hit the market in recent history. There were some concerns about his neck injury but Buffalo picked up Alex Tuch, top prospect Peyton Krebs, a first-round pick and swapped their 2023 third-round selection for a second-rounder.
Tuch, 26, is a 6-foot-4 speed demon who’s a safe bet to hit 20 goals and 50 points (he actually had 38 points in 50 games with the Sabres since the trade). Krebs was Vegas’ 17th overall pick in 2019 and had a solid rookie campaign with 22 points in 48 games.
Vegas essentially started with the same “first-round pick and top prospect” acquisition cost that the Kings and Panthers gave up for Fiala and Reinhart respectively. You can think of Tuch (and the 2023 pick swaps) as the premium that Vegas added on top of Eichel being the superior player and manning the premium position compared to Fiala and Reinhart.
Miller has the stronger recent track record production-wise but the age, pedigree and team control differences likely swing the pendulum in Eichel’s favour in terms of trade value. At the same time, you could argue that the Sabres were dealing from a position of weakness with Eichel’s trade request and that they didn’t get enough back anyway. Weighing all of those factors, I wonder if the package Buffalo received for Eichel (first-round pick, A-grade prospect, second-line winger or equivalent young player) might be somewhere around the ceiling of Miller’s trade value or what you’d ask for if you’re Canucks management.
New Jersey collected five assets in the Taylor Hall trade in a quantity over quality trade. Hall was only two years removed away from his Hart Trophy-winning campaign and a pending UFA at the end of the season. The Devils didn’t net any bluechip prospects or young players but picked up a first-round pick, Kevin Bahl (defence prospect picked in the second round the year prior), a conditional third-round pick, Nate Schnarr (a recent third-round pick at the time of the trade) and Nick Merkley.
The Devils made the most of their return by drafting Dawson Mercer with Arizona’s pick. Mercer had 17 goals and 42 points as a 20-year-old rookie and is set to become a core player for years. They also later traded the third-round pick for Jonas Siegenthaler who’s turned into a top-four shutdown ace. This one turned out well in the end for New Jersey, but drafting a player like Mercer is also close to a best-case scenario when you’re drafting outside the top 15. There’s never a guarantee you’ll mine a player like him.
Matt Duchene and Mark Stone were both elite pieces traded at the deadline as rentals. Duchene was playing at a 44-goal, 95-point pace while Stone was over a point-per-game in addition to his borderline Selke calibre defensive play. Ottawa didn’t get enough in these trades, with the Stone return, in particular, sticking out as a big disappointment. That’s proof of why the Canucks can’t wait until next year’s trade deadline to make a decision on Miller’s future.
At the bottom of the table, we have two outliers for very different reasons.
Colorado’s haul in the three-team trade for Duchene is legendary. The Avalanche received Sam Girard, a conditional 2018 or 2019 first-round pick (which turned into the 2019 No.4 pick that landed Bowen Byram), Shane Bowers (a recent first-round pick at the time), a second-round pick, a third-round pick and Vladislav Kamenev. Duchene had two full years of team control left though, which is a crucial difference.
Before you get ahead of yourselves though, the Artemi Panarin trade was a massive letdown. Panarin was 25 at the time and had scored 151 points in 162 NHL games. He also had two full years under contract at a bargain $6-million cap hit but the Blackhawks were concerned about whether they could afford his next contract after that. Ignoring the secondary assets, Chicago essentially swapped him for Brandon Saad because he was cost controlled with four years left on his deal and because of his past history with the team. Saad’s a good player but he’s obviously no Panarin.
What’s the main takeaway from all of these comparables?
It’s up to everybody’s own interpretation but for me, I think Miller’s trade value should land somewhere between the Fiala return (first-round pick and ace prospect) and what Eichel fetched (first-round pick, ace prospect, second-line winger/equivalent young player and second/third-round pick swap). Obviously, it’d be disappointing if the return is on the lower end of that spectrum — management will surely be looking for something closer to the high-end of that range.
How Miller’s contract situation could affect Vancouver’s return
There are two types of teams that could be interested in Miller.
One type will look at Miller’s elite production, his bargain $5.25 million cap hit for next season and view him as the perfect piece to put them over the top. This kind of team may also look at their cap situation and the massive next contract Miller will demand and view him strictly as a one-year rental or at the very least, want to wait and see how he fits before making that kind of high leverage commitment.
The second type of team might already be convinced about Miller’s long-term fit with their franchise and be willing to sign him to an extension immediately following a trade, like Fiala with the Kings.
Around the industry, team executives and agents that The Athletic polled agreed that it’s critical for the Canucks to find a team in the second camp in order to maximize their trade return.
“If Vancouver’s talking to a team about trading him, they (the Canucks) are going to say, ‘OK, you talk to his agent now and try to work out a deal,’ because how much in assets is a team going to give up for one year?” explained one veteran player agent who isn’t affiliated with Miller’s camp. “Vancouver’s not going to get what they need (in a trade) from a one-year rental. They need J.T. Miller to sign a long-term deal with somebody (as part of the trade to maximize their return).”
The value proposition of Miller as a one-year rental versus a long-term core piece could be quite different.
How many other top forwards will hit the market and will that affect Miller’s value?
In any negotiation, the side that doesn’t need to make the deal and feels comfortable walking away will always have more leverage. If the Canucks engage in trade talks, their leverage will hinge on how many different teams take a serious run at Miller. The leverage for a buyer will, in part, hinge on how many other top forwards are available that they can choose from. If there are plenty of high-end top-six players available via trade or free agency, it’d be a lot easier for a buying team to hold its ground and offer less for Miller.
With that in mind, there are a few things to monitor.
For one, it’s good news for the Canucks that Fiala went to a team in the Los Angeles Kings that wasn’t likely to bid for Miller’s services anyway. That’s a much better outcome for the Canucks compared to if Fiala had been traded to say the Devils as that would have already chipped into Vancouver’s potential trading partners.
In terms of other players to watch, Alex DeBrincat’s name has been swirling all over trade rumours as the Blackhawks decide how they want to rebuild.
What happens in Winnipeg with Mark Scheifele, who openly questioned his long-term future with the club at the end of the season? He landed on Frank Seravalli’s trade targets board and our Jets writer Murat Ates reported that Scheifele’s name “has also made it into preliminary trade conversations.” What happens with Pierre-Luc Dubois who already indicated his intent to hit free agency in 2024 according to Friedman?
Boston will probably move heaven and earth to try re-signing David Pastrnak who’s a UFA at the end of next season. But what if he looks at the lack of long-term top-six centres, the Bruins’ closing championship window and decides he doesn’t want to re-sign long-term?
BOS priority is to sign Pastrnak, but if he won’t sign — then they’d definitely have to move him. We will see how it all plays out.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 8, 2022
If you’re the Canucks, you’re hoping that as few of these names become available as possible.
What teams might be interested?
Almost any team could benefit from a top-10 scorer with size, who can play both wing and centre and makes just $5.25 million for next season. But based on need, here are some of the most interesting teams that stand out.
New York Rangers: The Rangers have been linked to Miller for months which isn’t a surprise given their uncertainty at the 2C position next season. Colleague Arthur Staple noted that New York’s reluctance to dangle right-shot defender Braden Schneider in a Miller trade complicated talks with the Canucks ahead of the trade deadline. What I wonder is whether the Rangers can fit Miller beyond next season.
Between Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba, the Rangers have about $44.1 million in cap space committed to just five players. Could they really afford to pay Miller in the $8-million range on top of that? Especially since that doesn’t even consider Igor Shesterkin who’ll be due for a significant raise in 2025?
If the Rangers only see Miller as a one-year option, that could limit how much they’d be willing to pay the Canucks to acquire him.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils have missed the playoffs 10 of the last 11 years including four consecutive. With a budding core that’s arrived, GM Tom Fitzgerald is under pressure to steer his club back into the playoffs. New Jersey’s flush with ample cap space and assets to make a big splash like acquiring Miller.
The dream from Vancouver’s perspective would be luring either the No.2 pick, which Fitzgerald has said he’s open to moving, or RFA Jesper Bratt. Bratt is likely too far-fetched though as it wouldn’t make sense for the Devils to ship out a 23-year-old who was near a point-per-game last season, even though there have been rumours about him and the organization not being on the best terms going back to their last contract negotiation.
Scott Wheeler ranked New Jersey’s prospect pool No.4 in the league so there could still be an attractive combination of picks and prospects the Devils could offer.
Carolina Hurricanes: Here’s what our Canes writer Sara Civian had to say about Carolina’s most pressing offseason need:
The Canes have struggled with scoring through their past two playoff runs and could use a power-play weapon/scoring winger as they gear up for 2022-23. It seems unlikely that will happen in free agency considering their cap space predicament, so that piece might be best acquired in a trade.
Miller would add a significant spark to Carolina’s offence and there’s no doubt the Hurricanes have some enticing assets.
Martin Necas, a 23-year-old RFA, has tons of high-end skill. It was only a year ago in 2020-21 that he had 41 points in 53 games, but he appeared to fall out of favour and shuffled up and down the lineup a ton last season. The marriage just isn’t working right now, with Necas landing as a trade candidate on Eric Duhatshek’s board. Civian also had him as a 50/50 to return. Necas has primarily played wing for Carolina but he was drafted as a natural centre.
Carolina also has an exciting 6-foot-2 right-shot defence prospect in Scott Morrow who authored a fantastic freshman year in the NCAA.
The only potential issue I see is that Carolina’s typically very reluctant to hand out big contracts. Extending Miller beyond next season would go against the way the Canes do business, meaning they’d probably only view him as a one-year rental.
Washington lacks high-end defence prospects outside of maybe Vincent Iorio but Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre are a pair of legitimate bluechip centre prospects. One of them could be attractive as the “top prospect” part of a package. The Capitals also have all their first and second-round picks for the next three years, including this year’s No.2o selection, intact.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Colleague Josh Yohe reported that Evgeni Malkin’s return to the Penguins “is no sure thing” and that in fact, there are many people who believe it’s actually unlikely. In the event that Pittsburgh can’t come to an agreement with Malkin, Yohe added that the club would be in the market for a top-six centre like Miller.
Boston Bruins: Boston has an obvious long-term need for a high-end centre. I’m a little less sure about how things could work assets-wise.
Fabian Lysell is a very fast, highly skilled forward but the prospect pool looks extremely thin after that. Brandon Carlo’s 25, locked up for the next five years at a reasonable $4.1 million cap hit. He’s 6-foot-5, right-handed, excellent in his own zone and would be a great fit next to Quinn Hughes for years to come. But Charlie McAvoy underwent shoulder surgery, with his six-month timeline for recovery cutting into multiple months of the regular season. Matt Grzelyck also underwent surgery and is expected to miss the start of the season.
Could the Bruins really afford to dangle a piece like Carlo when two of its other key defenders won’t be ready to go when the season starts?
Nashville Predators: Nashville doesn’t seem to want to rebuild anytime soon. What would then be their biggest offseason need? “Another high-impact forward. Make it two if Filip Forsberg ends up elsewhere,” wrote colleague Joe Rexrode.
With Ryan McDonagh now in the fold, is there any way the Canucks could pry Dante Fabbro, a 24-year-old, established right-shot defender? Barring that, Tanner Jeannot or Philip Tomasino could be interesting pieces in a package. Nashville also has an above-average prospect pool and all of its first-round picks moving forward so the Predators have enough assets to come up with an enticing package if they’re interested enough.
New York Islanders: Scoring was an issue for the Islanders last season as only two forwards cracked 50 points, none of them even hitting 60. The East is hyper-competitive and the Islanders will need significant upgrades to return to contender status.
I’m sure Canucks fans would love to snag Noah Dobson but I can’t see how that ever happens. Dobson’s only 22, scored 51 points last season and has all the makings of a two-way, top-pairing stud for the next decade.
The Islanders do have some intriguing assets although they lack the kind of blue-chip defence prospect the Canucks would be coveting. They own the No.13 pick this year, possess young forwards like Anthony Beauvillier and Oliver Wahlstrom and Auty Raty is a talented centre prospect with a middle-six upside.
Philadelphia Flyers: Philadelphia seems intent on trying to make the playoffs next season instead of tearing things down and rebuilding. If that’s the case, the club desperately needs some star talent offensively. The Flyers ranked 30th in the NHL for goals last season, they’ve lost Claude Giroux and their leading scorer, Travis Konecny, only notched 52 points.
It’s hard to see the Flyers moving the No.5 pick for a player as old as Miller. But Philadelphia does possess some high-end defence prospects like Cam York and Egor Zamula. If you’re trying to bet against an organization in the hopes of netting a high pick, wouldn’t Philadelphia’s 2023 first-round pick be an attractive piece?
(Top photo: Bob Frid / USA TODAY)