Even after the craziness of free agency and the various blockbuster trades that have dotted the NHL in recent weeks, the Vancouver Canucks still have a few trade partners for J.T. Miller should they get to the point of no return with a long-term extension. Everyone is still holding out hope that Patrik Allvin and company can find a way to negotiate a team-friendly deal with him and his agent Brian Bartlett, but that is far from a guarantee, even after indicating to The Athletic’s Harman Dayal that he and his client see a path to one at some point in the future (from ‘J.T. Miller’s agent discusses Canucks future: ‘There’s a realistic path for an extension’’, The Athletic, 7/20/22).
Unfortunately for everyone who is patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop in the form of said extension or a major trade, they might be waiting a while according to president Jim Rutherford.
“If [trying to sign him] doesn’t work, we have to get the best return we can for him,” Rutherford said. “But I think when the impatience should come on J.T. Miller is when we get closer to the trade deadline, and if we don’t have him signed at that point, making sure that we get a return for him. But I don’t see where there’s any urgency until we get to the trade deadline.”
Having said that, if a team comes along in the offseason with a package the Canucks can’t refuse and Miller is not re-signed, I’m sure they will look at it and potentially pull the trigger. Although, that will depend on how well the negotiations are going with his agent at the time. While the trade partners will inevitably change once the 2022-23 season gets going and teams see how their new acquisitions or youngsters fit into the lineup, let’s take one last look at three squads that could still throw their hat into the ring before training camps open in September.
New York Islanders
Yes, we’ve been down this road before but a recent report from Chris Botta, a former VP of Communications with the New York Islanders who worked for the team for over 20 years, has reignited the discussion. After a trade that fell apart at the 2022 Draft involving Miller, most people thought that possibility had evaporated. Apparently not, according to Botta.
“Once Lou said ‘go ask Vancouver’… usually when that happens that means it’s dead. But Lou’s a gentleman. Just as importantly, Jim Rutherford, the president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, is a gentleman…I’d like to think that… that’s a conversation that could be had again…I still believe that there’s a trade there to be made.”
So, if talks do get going again, which is entirely possible given that general manager Lou Lamoriello has failed to get Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk, the Canucks could still be in a position to acquire someone like right-handed star defenceman Noah Dobson. Currently a restricted free agent (RFA), he will be getting a significant raise on his next contract after recording a career-high 13 goals and 51 points in 80 games playing over 20 minutes a night in the top four. Given the need for more young skill on the right side, he would definitely be the primary target for Allvin and Rutherford should they continue talks with Lamoriello.
If Dobson is a no-go, they could also ask for a package centering around Oliver Wahlstrom and maybe a 2023 unprotected first-round pick. The former 11th overall pick in 2018 has steadily increased his production every season he’s been in the league, culminating in a career-high 13 goals and 24 points in 73 games last season. He also eclipsed the century mark in hits, finishing with 101. Looking back at some scouting reports from his draft year, THW’s own Mark Scheig lauded his skill and potential to be a power forward like Mikko Rantanen one day. If he can hit those heights in his prime, acquiring him now might be the homerun everyone is looking for in a potential Miller trade.
“[Wahlstrom] is an offensive threat every time he steps on the ice. Whether it’s a heavy shot from just about anywhere on the ice to precision passing, he uses his smarts to create plays. He’s also a great skater who is a load to handle at top speed. In my mind, Wahlstrom is the most natural goal scorer available in this draft with the exception of Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina.”
New Jersey Devils
Similar to Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald was unable to swing adding Gaudreau or Tkachuk to his roster. Confirmed to be in talks with Gaudreau for his services and speculated by the media as a potential suitor for Tkachuk, fans have been left wondering what other forwards he could have his eye on. Having already added former Tampa Bay Lightning playoff master, Ondrej Palat, he is apparently still looking for extra pieces to round out his roster. In a recent article by THW’s Kristy Flannery, she believes the Devils are better off without stars like Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat (who was also rumored to be a target at the 2022 Draft), since they need both depth and different types of skill throughout the lineup.
“Fitzgerald has been successfully adding depth to each position and has shown he is not shy about going after a superstar who he feels can help his team. He is filling out the Devils’ roster and that does not necessarily mean signing the best players, it’s finding the right ones to help strengthen what his team already has.”
Flannery also states in the article that adding either Gaudreau or DeBrincat wouldn’t have lined up with what Fitzgerald said in his media availability at the end of the season where he stated that he didn’t want “more of the same” in his 2022-23 lineup. While Miller’s age is not ideal at 29 years old, he would add something different to a Devils roster that lacks size and physicality. At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, he can play any style from the bruising power forward to the dynamic, finesse player capable of bringing fans out of their seats with a highlight-reel goal. He can also play both center and wing, which could be beneficial to Hughes, who has struggled in the faceoff dot in his career so far sporting a mediocre 35.4 percent win rate.
As for what the Canucks could want from the Devils now that the second-overall pick has been used on Simon Nemec, they could look at a number of players from the aforementioned Bratt who just scored a career-best 26 goals and 73 points to prospects like defenders Shakir Mukhamadullin or Kevin Bahl. Of course, the Devils’ 2023 first-round pick would also have to be on the table too.
The Colorado Avalanche’s interest in Miller will be contingent on where Nazem Kadri ends up. If new GM Chris MacFarland is able to convince him to return to the Mile High City, he likely will lose interest in acquiring him, especially considering he won’t have any cap space to accommodate a potential extension. On the other hand, if Kadri signs elsewhere, he will have a huge gaping hole on the second line that he will want to fill with someone other than Alex Newhook or Arturri Lehkonen.
Miller probably would prefer going to a contender, so the Avalanche would definitely fit the bill there as they are primed to be in a good position to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in 2023. Potentially boasting a top six with Nathan MacKinnon and Miller as their top-two centers would be a mighty one-two punch for opposing teams to deal with. Again, this all depends on Kadri and whether he returns to Colorado.
If a trade were to happen, the Canucks would definitely look at the versatile 24-year-old defenceman Samuel Girard or burgeoning star Bowen Byram, who starred in their backyard for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants between 2017 and 2020. More likely, it would be Girard as Byram had a bit of a coming-out party during the 2022 Playoffs when the former went down with an injury in the second round against the St. Louis Blues. He ended up thriving in elevated minutes as he finished with nine assists in 20 games along with a playoff-leading plus-15 in the plus/minus column. As a result, the 21-year-old’s value has probably skyrocketed pushing him more into the “untouchable” category rather than trade bait.
Canucks Still Have Trade Options If Miller Extension Goes South
Even though Rutherford has said that he is in no rush with Miller’s extension or potential trade, I’m sure he would like to get it dealt with sooner rather than later. As mentioned, there is still the possibility that a team sends him an offer he can’t refuse – especially if the negotiations continue at a lower gear. Regardless, even after all the craziness of free agency and the uncharacteristic blockbuster trade market, the Canucks have options when it comes to Miller this offseason. After all, there are a number of teams that still need significant help up front. In the end, it will all depend on who brings the best package to the party if and when the time comes that management decides a trade is the only road left.