We’re in the calm before the storm for the Vancouver Canucks, before the second half of June kicks off the busiest time of the year for GM Jim Benning.
Not long after the Stanley Cup is awarded, there will be a flurry of activity in the league with the NHL Draft kicking off on June 23, and the free agency window opening on July 1.
The Canucks’ lone marquee pending unrestricted free agent is Ryan Miller, who Benning has gone on the record as saying he’s interested in re-signing.
Liut says he will talk with gm Jim Benning at the NHL Combine at the end of the month and go from there. #Canucks
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) May 4, 2017
On the surface, the rebuilding Canucks and the soon to be 37-year-old goaltender may seem like a poor match. After all, Jacob Markstrom’s new three-year deal kicks in next season, carrying a $3.667 million cap hit.
But given that goaltender of the future Thatcher Demko will need at least another season in the AHL, the Canucks need a stopgap solution. If Benning wants stability in goal to clean up the messes made by young players in front of them, then the Miller-Markstrom tandem makes sense for Vancouver.
The question then becomes, at what cost?
Miller, in all likelihood, will be searching a multi-year deal. That could price him out of Vancouver, meaning that he could test the free agent waters.
It’s no secret that Miller wants to be close to his wife, Hollywood actress Noureen DeWulf, and his young son in Los Angeles. That was a major reason why he picked Vancouver in the first place as a free agent in 2014.
But in many ways, there aren’t a lot of places well suited for Miller. If he doesn’t want to be a backup (making backup money) and he wants to be close to Los Angeles, then Vancouver could be the best spot for him.
Except maybe, Las Vegas.
The Vegas Golden Knights will pick one player from the existing 30 teams in the Expansion Draft on June 21. An unrestricted free agent, Miller doesn’t hold much value with his current contractual status. For that reason, most expect either Luca Sbisa or Brendan Gaunce will be plucked from the Canucks’ roster.
But there’s an interesting wrinkle that could result in Miller heading to Sin City.
The NHL’s newest team will get a head start on free agency, as they are allowed to sign UFAs and RFAs during a 72-hour period before the Expansion Draft. Should they sign a free agent during this exclusive window, that will count as a selection for the Expansion Draft.
Vegas free-agent window will be from10 am ET on Sunday June 18 to 10 am ET on Wednesday June 21; same 72-hr period as expansion draft window
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 30, 2017
Vegas general manager George McPhee told TSN this week that they are indeed looking to sign free agents during that exclusive window.
“We want to be a real competitive club,” McPhee said. “We want to be as good as we can.”
Though Vegas wants to stock up on young players and draft picks, they’ve got a chance to be a playoff team in their first season due to the most favourable rules for an expansion team we’ve ever seen in NHL history.
A number of good players are in danger of being exposed, like Jakob Silfverberg in Anaheim, and Jonas Brodin in Minnesota. Vancouver, in the grand scheme of things, is set-up pretty well with goalless Gaunce and overpriced Sbisa likely being their best players exposed.
“There are some instances where it would be the best way to go with certain clubs,” McPhee added. “It’s the best player available. But we’ll see how the negotiations go.”
“We’re going to be aggressive there.”
You have to wonder if McPhee views Ryan Miller as the “best player available” on the Vancouver Canucks. With the likes of Gaunce, Sbisa, Derek Dorsett, and Alex Biega likely to be available in the Expansion Draft, Miller could make a lot of sense for the Golden Knights.
Miller had the best season of any free agent goaltender last season, and was arguably Vancouver’s MVP. The knock on veteran goalie, of course, is his age.
That may not matter as much for the Golden Knights, who don’t have any prospects ready to take over in their pipeline yet.
By now, some of you are surely yelling “what about Marc-Andre Fleury!?” at your computer screen, but although the Penguins can only keep one goaltender, they’re expected to deal one before Vegas can get their hands on them.
Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard is probably the best bet to be picked up by the Golden Knights given his age (25) and ability. Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer is another good young goalie available, but Washington will have a number of other intriguing players available to choose from.
The best veteran goalies available are likely to be Roberto Luongo, Jimmy Howard, and Jaroslav Halak, but all all of them have undesirable contracts.
Vegas could choose Miller to work in a tandem role with Pickard, and they can do it whether Benning re-signs him or not.
Should Benning re-sign the former Vezina winner before the 72-hour exclusive free agent signing window, Miller will be eligible for the Expansion Draft unless he signs a no-movement clause. That’s unlikely given that Vancouver would have to expose Jacob Markstrom in that scenario.
If they don’t re-sign Miller, Vegas will get their chance to speak with him before anyone else. With the Golden Knights set-up for success and the proximity of Las Vegas to Miller’s family in Los Angeles, moving to an expansion team could be desirable.