For months, media, fans, and insiders alike have been speculating about a potential J.T. Miller trade.
It’s easy to see why trading Miller makes sense. He’ll be 30 whenever his next contract kicks in. The Canucks are also capped out, have a glut of forwards, and desperately need help on the right-hand side of the blueline.
However, the longer he stays, the more fans and pundits alike need to consider that Miller could sign an extension with the Canucks.
If he does stick around in Vancouver, what would a reasonable extension look like for both the team and Miller?
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Comparable contracts for Canucks and Miller
There’s one recent comparable that stands out above the rest.
New York Rangers forward Mike Zibanejad signed an eight-year extension worth $8.5 million per season which kicks in this year at the age of 29.
Two years prior to signing his extension, Zibanejad’s points-per-game rate was at 1.1.
Over the last two seasons, Miller has posted 1.09 points per game.
The Athletic’s GVSA model does rate Zibanejad slightly higher because of a stronger defensive game, but it’s clear that these two players are in the same stratosphere.
Although primarily a winger, another comparable player who just signed long-term was Filip Forsberg, who also signed for eight years at $8.5 million per season.
Forsberg posted 1.21 points per game last season. Miller was slightly ahead of him with a 1.23 point-per-game mark.
Other recent comparables are either inferior to Miller, including Logan Couture, Matt Duchene, and Tomas Hertl. All of those players signed long-term deals worth at least $8 million per season.
Nicklas Backstrom is a bit of a closer comparable, although he was 32 years old when he signed a five-year extension with the Washington Capitals worth $9.2 million per season back in 2020. His production at the time was lesser than Miller’s, although he did help Washington win a Stanley Cup less than two years prior.
If we look at some of Miller’s historical comparables, two other players stand out.
Marc Savard was slightly more productive than Miller when he signed a four-year, $20 million extension back in 2006.
At the time, the salary cap was $44 million, meaning Savard’s contract ate up 11.3% of the Bruins’ cap space.
In terms of how that applies to a Miller extension, 11% of the proposed cap of $83.5 million for next season would equate to $9.4 million per season.
Miller’s other strong comparable is Blake Wheeler. Following his first 90-point season at the age of 31, Wheeler signed a five-year extension worth $8.25 million per season that kicked in at the age of 32.
That same contract would be worth $8.6 million based on salary cap estimates for 2023-24.
Here’s what helps Canucks in Miller negotiations
Miller has decent leverage in negotiations, but the Canucks might have a leg up in one area.
The first is that the market for UFA forwards seeking big contracts has softened. While team-controlled RFAs are getting paid, UFA forwards have taken contracts below their market value in free agency.
That included Johnny Gaudreau, who surprisingly signed for under $10 million per season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. You could add Vincent Trocheck as another who took a below-market salary ($5.625 million per year with the Rangers).
If Miller is hoping for a much larger raise on the open market compared to what the Canucks offer him, he might be left disappointed.
Reasonable long-term extension for Miller
Predicting that Miller will sign for anything less than $8 million per season is entering an implausible, rose-coloured reality.
It’s also hard to see the Canucks offering Miller much beyond six years, considering that a deal of such length would take the Ohio native to age 36.
The list of NHLers who are first-line calibre at that age is a short one.
In terms of what’s reasonable and plausible, a six-year deal in the $8 million to $8.5 million range fits the bill.
Any six-year deal worth more than $8.5 million starts to become questionable for the Canucks.
Could Miller sign a short-term extension?
There’s really only one “short-term” option that makes sense.
It would be a shock for Miller to sign a deal that’s any less than five years long, especially if he comes close to matching his 2021-22 performance. A contract like that would take him to the age of 35, which minimizes some of the long-term risks for the Canucks.
Now, if Miller could make $8 million on a long-term deal, that would pay him $48 million over the length of a contract. Chances are in a negotiation, he wouldn’t sacrifice much of that overall salary if he signed a shorter-term deal.
If Miller signed a five-year deal, a reasonable average annual value would likely fall in that $9 million to 9.5 million range.
Even these “reasonable” contracts are hard to envision between the Canucks and Miller, considering the player’s age, the Canucks contention window, salary cap situation, and the mess they have on the blueline.
During his most recent appearance on the Bob McCown Podcast, Rutherford talked about the difficulties so far in negotiations with Miller.
“We would like to re-sign him, if possible. We’re a long way apart. I think it will be hard to get to a point where he’ll have a comfort level in what we’re able to do.