With the NHL Entry Draft upon us, and free agency looming, the Vancouver Canucks have already begun making moves this offseason. After announcing earlier that head coach Bruce Boudreau would return to coach the team in the 2022-23 season, along with a few other coaching additions, they re-signed scoring winger Brock Boeser to a three-year contract extension. While it’s great news all around for the team and player, it likely leaves leading scorer J.T. Miller as the odd man out.
With Boeser inked for the next three seasons with an average annual value (AAV) of $6.65 million, it leaves the Canucks with very little room to spare money-wise, not only heading into the 2022-23 season, but beyond that as well. While Vancouver could still make it work with Miller, negotiations are apparently not going well between the two sides. With the price it’ll take to keep him on the roster, along with the other players in need of new deals, the situation is less than ideal for general manager Patrick Allvin and company.
The Price to Keep Miller
It’s not that Vancouver doesn’t want to re-sign Miller. He set a career-high in goals (32), and points (99), this past season while playing in 80 games, the first time he’s done that since the 2016-17 season with the New York Rangers. He’s also entering the final year of a five-year contract with a very team-friendly AAV of $5.25 million. The difficulty in this situation will be the price point it will take to keep him beyond next season.
Outside of the career highs Miller set this past year, it’s his other intangibles that make him such a valuable player for the Canucks. He can play both wing and centre, is a physical presence with 172 hits, and on top of that won 54.1% of his faceoffs when he was playing down the middle. As of this moment, the Canucks currently have $2.148 million in cap space according to CapFriendly, and Miller will be looking to cash in after being over a point per game (PPG) player with the Canucks, scoring 217 points in 202 games over the last three seasons. Don’t be surprised if his next deal has an AAV starting around the $9 million mark, at the very least.
Other Canucks Contracts Coming Up
The Canucks have done a fairly good job locking up their core pieces to multi-year contracts – even though only one of them was re-signed by the current regime. Along with Boeser, players like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Conor Garland are all locked up until at least 2023-24. While others like Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are also signed long-term, they are players who could be candidates to be potentially moved to clear cap space. But along with Miller’s contract being up after this season, there are other contracts coming up as well.
Captain Bo Horvat is also set to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA), at the end of this coming season, as he is in the final year of a six-year, $33 million deal, which carries an AAV of $5.5 million. The former 2013 first-round pick has grown and developed into one of the better two-way centres in the NHL. He has also become an elite presence in the faceoff circle, winning 57.1% of his draws last year, which was eighth-best league-wide, while also scoring a career-high 31 goals.
The centre position is also such a coveted position in today’s game. We’ve seen such success from the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to the Tampa Bay Lighting with Steve Stamkos, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli, and more recently the Colorado Avalanche with Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri. They’ve all proved what the importance of centre depth can achieve.
Based on the way the market is shaping up for centres, Vancouver’s current cap situation, and a projection of what Horvat’s next deal could look like, that alone could price Miller out of Vancouver.
How Vancouver Could Make It Work
Despite all this talk of Miller being the odd man out in Vancouver, there are ways where the Canucks could still make it work. The biggest hurdle here is cap space, and while it would be challenging to do so, there are other moves that could free up more than the $2.148 million that is currently available to lock up Miller long-term.
Myers and Ekman-Larsson combine to account for over $13 million against the cap and will do so collectively for the next two seasons. Myers’ contract has an AAV of $6 million per season that ends in 2024, while Ekman-Larsson is locked into a $7.26 million price tag until 2027. Ekman-Larsson’s deal might be too difficult to move, but trading just one of these two defenders would not only create enough space to lock up Miller long-term but could also allow them to sign Horvat without removing any other pieces from the roster. It’ll also help that $2.4 million comes off the books in cap relief after the buyouts to Braden Holtby and Jake Virtanen are done after the 2022-23 season.
There is no doubt that there will be (and probably are), plenty of suitors lining up for Miller’s services if he is indeed dealt, but until then, we’ll have to wait and see what Allvin, along with Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay, decide to do heading into the draft and free agency period.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.