When the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to add talent at the 2018 trade deadline, it was well known that they were hoping to land a big-name defenseman to shore up their unit. What came as a surprise, however, was when then-general manager, Steve Yzerman added not just a veteran defenseman, but also a big-bodied center in J.T. Miller.
Surprise is the word that best describes Miller’s time with the Lightning. When he joined the team, he found instant success on the top line, scoring 18 points in 19 regular-season games.
Then, after a middling postseason, no one expected Yzerman to immediately sign him in the off-season, giving the 26-year-old forward a five-year, $26.25-million extension. Miller would respond to this new contract with a solid season, despite getting bounced up and down the Lightning’s lineup.
This leaves a cap-crunched Tampa Bay franchise in a precarious position with Miller. Is he worth keeping with that cap hit, or would they be better off trading him to open up some extra money to re-sign their young stars like Brayden Point?
The Case For Keeping Miller
Despite having a fairly uncertain role with the franchise, at no point has Miller played poor hockey in his time with the Lightning. Sure, he had his ups and downs, but given the fact that he had no consistent role, one has to be a bit impressed by his scoring totals. He posted 47 points while playing everywhere from a top-line winger to a fourth-line center.
If he had been able to stick in the Lightning’s top-six for the entire season, he could have easily broken the 50-point mark, and he may have even threatened 60 points for the first time in his career.
Given the fact that the Lightning are likely to shed some salary this off-season, Miller is the exact player you want to have on your roster. He could theoretically fill in for just about any role-player in the top-six while finding a consistent role with the team in the process.
The Case for Trading Miller
Imagine, for a moment, that you are Juliene BriseBois taking over the role of general manager of the Lightning. You know that you need to clear cap space so you can re-sign your talented young core. Do you trade a veteran player that you helped draft and watched develop over the course of the last eight seasons, or do you trade the player that was acquired only a year prior and was signed by the former GM as a parting gift?
This is the position BriseBois finds himself in this off-season, and it would not be surprising to see him decide that Miller is expendable. Yes, he is a solid player, but there’s no telling if he was in his plans in the first place.
There’s also the fact that Miller only has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning that the Lightning would have at least some options should they shop him this summer. This might allow them to get a decent return of picks and/or a mid-tier prospect, instead of being forced to give him away for nothing other than cap relief.
Should the Lightning Trade Miller?
In a perfect world, the Lightning would not have to entertain the thought of trading Miller. He is the sort of utility player that makes a team better with his strong play up and down the lineup.
Given their situation, though, he may be the franchises’ best option for cap-relief this summer. Even with a modified no-trade clause, it is extremely likely that they could find a team willing to take on his $5 million cap hit since he has so much utility on the ice.
However, it’s not a bad thing if Miller isn’t dealt this off-season either. He is the sort of Swiss-army knife player that every franchise needs in order to win a Stanley Cup. If he can find a more consistent role with the Lightning, he could easily become one of the franchises’ best players.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.