What the Leafs could offer the Canucks in a potential J.T. Miller trade

Feb 24 2022, 3:47 pm

If you believed everything you read on the internet, Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller might already be a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Earlier this week, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman floated the idea that Toronto might be interested in trading for Miller, and fans of both the Leafs and Canucks had plenty of opinions about it.

While nothing is set in stone yet, it appears the conversation is at least ongoing between the two teams, per CHEK’s Rick Dhaliwal.

For Toronto, a forward like Miller isn’t a necessity, so to speak: with 179 goals so far this season, the Leafs have the league’s fourth-best offensive output. But an injury to defenceman Jake Muzzin with an expected move to the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) could open up Toronto’s trade options.

Why is Miller available?

Miller’s current rate of 1.06 points per game is the highest of his career, with 18 goals and 35 assists for a total of 53 points in 50 games. He is the Canucks’ leading scorer this season, but that’s also exactly why Vancouver could be looking to cash in on him.

At age 28, Miller has a cap hit of $5.25 million for this season and next, before he can enter unrestricted free agency. Essentially, you’d get two playoff runs out of Miller, something that seems unlikely for the 24-22-6 Canucks, at least this season. If the Muzzin move does happen, Toronto would effectively have the cap space to slot Miller in, with Muzzin’s cap hit of $5.625 million being shifted to LTIR.

What could the Leafs offer for Miller?

The easiest way to gauge Miller’s value would be to compare him against, well, himself. Miller has already been traded twice in his NHL career: once from the New York Rangers to Tampa Bay, and from Tampa to Vancouver less than a year and a half later.

Per hockeydb, here are the full details of each of his last two trades:

  • February 2018: Traded from New York Rangers with Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay Lightning for Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, round 1 pick in the 2018 draft (Nils Lundkvist) and conditional round 2 pick in the 2019 draft (Karl Henriksson)
  • June 2019:  Traded from Tampa Bay Lightning to Vancouver Canucks for Marek Mazanec, round 3 pick in the 2019 draft (Hugo Alnefelt) and round 1 pick in the 2020 draft (Shakir Mukhamadullin)

The 2019 trade is a more likely comparable for the Leafs, simply because he was the lone incoming piece for his new team, rather than being packaged with Ryan McDonagh in his first transaction.

In both cases, a first round pick was moved, which is usually the baseline cost for a top-line player such as Miller. The challenging aspect is figuring out the other half of the deal for Toronto, as history has shown Miller has always been moved for multiple assets.

If it’s other roster players the Canucks are targeting, defenceman Timothy Liljegren would make the most logical sense for everyone involved. Toronto’s 2017 first round pick, the 22-year-old Liljegren has been Toronto’s sixth-most used defenceman this season, suiting up for 34 games.

Beyond Liljegren (or maybe Travis Dermott if they want someone with more NHL experience), it’s hard making a realistic case for anyone else the Leafs could reasonably part with and have both sides satisfied. For the Canucks, a Miller trade would be a long-term move, but the Leafs have just four forwards signed past next season: Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.

None of those players departing for Miller would make reasonable sense for Toronto. The Canucks wouldn’t be targeting an older defenceman like Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, or TJ Brodie, and it’s tough to see the Leafs wanting to part ways with youngster Rasmus Sandin.

Maybe a lower-tier player like David Kampf or Ondrej Kase gets thrown in the trade so the Canucks have another NHL-quality forward to play out the season, but they’d be targeting something else that would fit into their long-term vision as well.

If it’s not Liljegren, that leaves prospects and draft picks as the other options for Vancouver. If it’s prospects the Canucks want, forwards such as Nick Robertson and Roni Hirvonen or defenceman Topi Niemala would shoot to the top of their asking lists.

If it’s solely draft picks the Canucks are after, the Leafs have both their first and second round pick this season, but have traded away every pick in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. Committing to a Miller trade via this route would essentially be the last step in going all-in for Toronto, as it could all but erase their draft capital this year.

The NHL trade deadline is just 25 days away. Buckle up.

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