Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller have a lot in common.
Seen as two leaders on and off the ice for the Vancouver Canucks, they both scored over 30 goals last season. They both play centre, and only two years separate them in age.
They both make between $5.25 million and $5.5 million and will enter the final year of their respective contracts next season.
But when asked about each player in a television interview with Don Taylor and Rick Dhaliwal on CHEK today, Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford painted different pictures regarding upcoming contract negotiations.
When asked about Miller, Rutherford said, “We’ll see where that goes.” While he was complimentary of Miller’s season, he also called it a “career year.”
When Rutherford was posed a similar question about Horvat, he said, “There’s been good discussions with him after the season” and that “we believe that he should be part of our team going forward.”
Rutherford did agree the goal was to re-sign Miller, but he hardly sounded confident that it would get done.
Given that Miller will be 30 years old by the time his contract expires and the fact that his value is sky-high coming off a career-high 99-point season, he would appear to be a tough player to re-sign at a good value.
So despite being their leading scorer in two of the last three seasons, he’s a player that could be expendable because of the cost of re-signing him and the potential haul he could fetch in a trade.
“That’s the goal, [to re-sign Miller]. We’ll see where that goes, and then decisions will be made at that time,” said Rutherford on Donnie and Dhali. “Everybody thought he was going to be traded at the trade deadline, and he wasn’t. And he continued on. He had a great year for the Canucks. A career year for himself. He’s got a lot of good hockey left in him. So we’re going to go through the process here, see where the contracts go, and then make a decision.”
Horvat, on the other hand, will be 28 years old when his contract expires next year. That’s more palatable for the team, and perhaps the career-Canuck is more motivated to sign an extension at a club-friendly deal.
Rutherford’s a fan.
“I really like Bo. I’ve always liked him back to his junior hockey days,” said Rutherford. “There’s been good discussions with him after the season. He had a good year this year… and he’s got a lot of good hockey left in him. He’s a character guy, he’s a centre iceman that’s hard to find, and we believe that he should be part of our team going forward.”
Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin have been clear that they don’t want to give good players away just to clear cap space, but if they don’t move money out, they won’t have the funds to change the makeup of their roster significantly.
The new management team doesn’t think this group is good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup as currently constructed, so they’ll have to do something.
Moving expensive contracts to non-core players is likely the preferred route. But are Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, Tucker Poolman, and Jason Dickinson tradeable assets?
Allvin found a taker for Travis Hamonic, so never say never, but those will be tough deals to complete.
The Canucks will be better with Miller on their team next season, but extending him at the wrong dollar figure or term length will hurt them long term. So if they can’t agree on terms, they’ll look to move him — but that goes for all players.
It appears the days of willingly letting players walk out the door for nothing, like what happened so often under the previous regime, are over.
“We’re already in a tough situation cap-wise. We’re trying to gradually untangle that so we can add new players,” said Rutherford. “Any player that has a contract that’s up, or in the future, we’re going to project where they fit within our cap so we can add more players and make this team better. So it’s not just about J.T., it’s for all players.”