Bruins’ Miller Faces Uncertain Future in Injury-Plagued Career

It has been a long time since Boston Bruins’ defenseman Kevan Miller has suited up for a hockey game. With general manager Don Sweeney indicating in a recent press conference that Miller would not be ready to return if the 2019-20 season resumes at some point this summer, it seems as though that is not going to change anytime soon.

Miller has faced more than his share of injuries throughout his career, which began in earnest in 2013 after he signed with the Bruins on Oct. 21, 2011. He will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2019-20 season, leaving many to question whether he’ll ever don the Spoked-B again. In fact, his spate of horrible injury luck and the halt in play brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic may just have sealed the fate of his future in the National Hockey League.

Missing Out

Last season, Miller played just 39 games for the Bruins, missing substantial amounts of time in October, November, December and March. In fact, had the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last season, he would not have even qualified to have his name inscribed on the coveted hardware.

The most games the California native has played in any one of the six seasons he has been on the Bruins’ active roster was 71 in the 2015-16 campaign. His 324 career appearances average out to just 54 games per season, out of a possible 82. A significant majority of those games have been missed because of injury.

With Miller not expected to be ready to return to game action if the current season is to resume, he will not have played a single game in 2019-20. Along his frustrating road to recovery, the University of Vermont product has seen one setback after another.

Related: Best Nicknames in Hockey

Miller suffered a broken kneecap in the last game he played, April 4, 2019, on the road against the Minnesota Wild. After surgery and amid his first attempt to rehabilitate the knee, it was fractured a second time. Bruins fans may remember pictures of Miller moving around the Bruins locker room during the playoffs with his knee heavily bandaged.

What Next?

Over the past year, it seemed as though Miller has become the poster boy for the “one step forward, two steps back” idiom. Any time some good news came down the pipe, such as a few times when the hard-hitting blueliner was reported to have been skating under the watchful eye of the Bruins’ training staff, the next update would be much less promising.

Kevan Miller Scott Laughton Nolan Patrick Sean Kuraly
Kevan Miller, Scott Laughton, Nolan Patrick and Sean Kuraly, Philadelphia Flyers vs Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The kneecap is the latest of the injury issues that have kept the undrafted Miller out of the lineup over the years. In the same year, he also had a broken hand, fractured larynx and a torn muscle. That’s a long list of injuries for an entire career, not to mention one season. In addition, a dislocated shoulder suffered in 2015 forced him to have season-ending surgery. Rehab has been the norm, rather than the exception to the rule.

Fighting Spirit

So why has Miller been so injury-prone? For one, he has never shied away from a fight on the ice. It is that tough-as-nails demeanor that has endeared him to Bruins fans. It is also most likely one of the major reasons that his career might be cut short by injury. He is not alone, of course. Former Bruins’ defenseman Adam McQuaid, who also was known for mixing it up, is another example of an enforcer who has struggled to stay healthy.

Injury issues aren’t the only thing calling Miller’s future in Boston into question. He also just so happens to play a position for which the Bruins enjoy a good amount of depth throughout the organization. In fact, the team recently signed Jeremy Lauzon to a contract extension after he made an impressive showing with the big club.

In addition, solid veterans John Moore and Steven Kampfer were essentially waiting in the wings to fill in when needed, Moore in Boston and Kampfer in Providence, and hot prospect Urho Vaakanainen has been biding his time in the AHL in Providence and getting better all the time. Connor Clifton also was just getting back from a lengthy injury absence when play was suspended in March. The young talent is there, and they are turning the heads of the team’s brass.

Sean Couturier, Kevan Miller, Jaroslav Halak
Philadelphia Flyers’ Sean Couturier scores a goal on Boston Bruins’ Jaroslav Halak and Kevan Miller. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Miller will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1. Sweeney said the team would be open to contract talks with him. However, any deal would certainly have to come with myriad contingencies, given Miller’s current situation.

The reality is that Miller will be 33 years old in November, and he hasn’t played in a game in more than a year. There is no way to know how long he will be out or, if he is able to return, how effective he will be after such an extended layoff. It is quite possible that he has played his last game as a Bruin.