Canucks prepared to make "non-emotional" decision on J.T. Miller this summer

May 4 2022, 10:26 pm

He was the subject of speculation until the trade deadline, and you can bet the J.T. Miller rumours will heat up again this summer.

Miller just put up one of the best offensive seasons in Canucks history. Scoring 99 points, he just missed becoming the sixth Canuck ever to reach the 100-point plateau, which is a list that includes a who’s who of top players in franchise history: Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Pavel Bure, Alex Mogilny, and Markus Naslund.

Miller tied for the team lead in goals (32), led all Canucks in assists (67), and finished a whopping 31 points ahead of the next closest point-getter on the team. That’s the second-biggest gap between first and second Canucks scorers in franchise history (Bure finished the 1993-94 season with a 37-point lead).

Miller didn’t win team MVP but, with all due respect to Thatcher Demko, he probably should have. And that’s what makes Miller’s case so interesting heading into this offseason.

Miller has one more year left on his bargain contract that pays him $5.25 million per season. A pending unrestricted free agent in 2023, Miller will be able to command big money and big term.

The Canucks would surely love to keep their star forward, but re-signing him isn’t straightforward. At age 29, Miller is the oldest core player on Vancouver’s roster, so signing him to a long-term extension comes with risk.

That’s a point that Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford appeared to agree with in an interview with Satiar Shah and Dan Riccio on Sportsnet 650.

Rutherford referred to Miller’s season as a “career year,” and hinted that if Miller’s contract demands are too high, he would trade his leading scorer for “assets” that would help the team in the future.

“When you sign a player in their 30s, and you’re put in a position you have to sign them long term, what you have to weigh in that decision is how much that player’s going to give you in the first three years compared to the last three years,” Rutherford said. “You know at some point there’s going to be a decline in the player’s play. But does he give you that much more in the first three years, it offsets the last three years?”

As Miller’s agent pointed out on CHEK TV this week, not every player falls apart after the age of 30. It is an age where most players see a decline in performance though. The Sedins, who were relatively late bloomers, hit their peak at age 30 and 31. For Ryan Kesler, it was around age 25-26, and Naslund hit his peak at age 28-29.

The previous regime didn’t seem to have much of a problem signing 30+ players to long-term deals, doing so most famously with Loui Eriksson. The Canucks have also been guilty in the past of signing older players to long-term deals out of desperation like they appeared to do with the likes of Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel.

Miller might remain productive well into his 30s, but age catches up to every player eventually.

“He’s coming off a career year, he’s a very good player, players like him are hard to find that can put up points and they’re strong, they’re physical, and things like that,” Rutherford added. “But we’re going to negotiate with his agent this offseason, and we’re going to negotiate that works for the Canucks, not only for now but long term. If both sides can come to an agreement, then J.T. Miller will be here long term.

“If the numbers get out of whack, then we have to make a non-emotional decision and make a tough decision that won’t be popular with anybody. And try to get assets that are going to help this franchise long term.”

When asked during Tuesday’s media conference if he’d be willing to take a step back next season in order to improve the team long-term, GM Patrik Allvin didn’t seem interested in that approach.

“I don’t want to definitely take a step back. I don’t think anybody in this business wants to take a step back. You always want to get better. I hope we’re definitely going to find ways to improve our team here.”

Perhaps Allvin was just being cagey because trading Miller for future assets would be a step-back type of move.

“I don’t think you need to doĀ majorĀ changes. Obviously, we want to get better. We’re open for discussions with other teams, and free agents, and see how we can improve our team… I don’t want to just get rid of cap, just to create cap space, I want to improve our club to get better next year.”

After seven years of taking things “day-by-day,” it will be interesting to see the new management group’s approach this summer. Rutherford’s comments, at the very least, indicate a more forward-thinking and less desperate approach to hockey operations.

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