Maple Leafs Can Better 2nd Pair by Acquiring Colin Miller

As we enter the second half of the NHL season, the trade rumours and speculation start to heat up. The Toronto Maple Leafs have put themselves in a good spot to once again be buyers this year as they look to make a deep playoff run.

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While the forward situation is looking very promising as they’re getting contributions throughout the lineup, the second defense pairing of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl appears to be an area to improve  on since the start of the season. 

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Much like Josh Manson and his links to the Blue and White, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Colin Miller has also been an ideal candidate to target dating back to 2019 as he is a right shot, two-way defender. Bringing in a player who has had previous success on great teams in the past is something that could benefit the Maple Leafs as they look to bolster their roster and turn their playoff misfortunes into success. They shouldn’t hesitate at the opportunity to make a move and bring him in.

Great Value, Affordable Cap Hit

Knowing the Maple Leafs and their current cap situation, they would obviously love to find value in affordable deals that play into their hands. Michael Bunting, David Kampf and Ondrej Kase are the latest examples. Miller is another player that could provide significant value and impact at a reasonable contract that may catch the Maple Leafs attention.

Colin Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Colin Miller, Buffalo Sabres (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

A veteran of seven seasons, he’s currently in the final year of his contract at a very practical $3.875M cap hit. It isn’t a bad idea to trade for his services as a rental player as he might be someone they can bring in to be a more steady option that can provide an impact on both sides of the puck. That is a very intriguing price for a player that has had success as a top-four defenseman.

As the Sabres are in still in a rebuild mode, the Maple Leafs definitely have assets in order to acquire a more reliable top-four defender. Fellow Maple Leafs Writer Shane Seney, also thinks of him as a potential option given his mobility and his impact offensively. 

Then there’s also the fact that he played for the Soo Greyhounds from 2010-11 to 2012-13. In his final season, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe became the bench boss and made it to the playoffs. That season, Miller had finished with an OHL career best 55 points. While that may not be the top selling point, the familiarity between player and coach is always something to consider given that they’ve had that working connection in the past. 

Significant Improvement Over Holl

There isn’t any doubt that Justin Holl has struggled this season after Dubas instilled confidence in him to be a top-four defender. However, he has yet to provide any sort of consistency as he doesn’t handle pressure well leading to broken plays and turnovers. 

Timothy Liljegren seems like a perfect option to replace Holl and has played significantly better in a top-four role though he’s still finds himself trying to work and stay in the lineup. He hasn’t played since Dec 14 against Edmonton where he recorded an assist, and that trend may continue even though he’s looked impressive in every game that he’s played. 

Vegas Golden Knights Colin Miller Washington Capitals Andre Burakovsky
Former Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller checks Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (AP Photo/John Locher)

While Liljegren deserves to get some more ice time, he should be able to crack the third pairing. Miller would no doubt be a welcoming addition to a team looking to improve on one of it’s weaker defensive pairing. He would provide more offensive upside than Holl and would be a major improvement defensively.

The following numbers from Puck IQ represent his percentage of minutes and Corsi For against elite and middle competition over his career.

Team (Season)TOI% vs. EliteCF% vs. EliteTOI% vs. MiddleCF% vs. Middle
BOS (2015-16)19.452.2041.650.6
BOS (2016-17)19.255.6045.360.8
VGK (2017-18)18.053.6040.655.7
VGK (2018-19)27.052.9036.055.0
BUF (2019-2022.851.3034.947.1
BUF (2020-21)28.646.9036.547.7
BUF (2021-22)28.548.4033.447.9

Miller’s CF% was always above 50 on very strong teams like the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights. He played well in a depth role with the Bruins before being selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft and breaking out with 41 points in his first season. He followed that up with 29 points in 2018-19 where he missed time with an upper body injury. 

His numbers did see a drop against both elite and middle competition with the Sabres as they were nowhere near as good compared to when he was with the Bruins and Golden Knights. Though, that shouldn’t be a deterrent as they haven’t been strong statistical over the last few seasons. Since 2019-20 the Sabres are ranked 27th in five-on-five CF% (47.92) and in scoring chances for percentage (47.28) and fourth in goals against (358). 

If Miller does in fact become a Maple Leaf, he’ll be on a balanced team that can provide better consistency in his own end. On a good team in a second pairing role, he’s definitely capable of providing some offense and makes an impact defensively like when he was with the Golden Knights. Even though he may not reach the totals he had in 2017-18, he’s definitely worth the investment. 

Colin Miller Buffalo Sabres
Colin Miller, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even when facing top competition, Miller has fared well in this regard. He has seen an increase in percentage against elite level players every season, while his time against middle level players has slowly dropped. When on a successful, deep and talented team, Miller seems to be a major contributor and offensive driver.

A Piece The Maple Leafs Need

The Maple Leafs need to be active to try and improve their roster when the time presents itself. Now is definitely it, as Miller is a piece that fits everything that they need.  

Related: Maple Leafs Should Look to Canadiens to Strengthen Defense

While they may have to pay a price to acquire his services as a rental, it’ll be worth it as this could make the team more competitive now. Even though they’re one of the top teams in the league, there may be some hesitancy after the Maple Leafs gave up a first-round pick for Nick Foligno last season. However, the price for Miller would be worth the investment in the short or long term. 

Having a steady two-way defender with good puck moving abilities is definitely going to provide balance with Jake Muzzin being the defensive-minded player. He has been a factor with his transitional play and his ability to limit chances in his own zone. We’ve seen the team defense improve constantly. Why not put them over the top with this potential acquisition?

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick and Puck IQ.