The Vancouver Canucks have been desperately seeking top-six forwards for some time now. That’s resulted in trades for Ryan Spooner, Tanner Pearson and, yesterday, drafting Vasili Podkolzin in the first-round.
And while all those other moves will likely have varying degrees of success as they are judged in the rearview mirror, today’s move of adding J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning unquestionably accomplishes it.
Miller was drafted by the New York Rangers in the first-round of the 2011 draft and blossomed into a mainstay in the team’s forward corps—he registered 56 points in 82 games in 2016-2017—before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Rangers sought a rebuild.
He had success in Tampa as well, scoring 47 points in 75 games last season.
But of course, there’s what the Canucks gave up.
Goaltender Marek Mazanec is a meaningless throw-in, while a third-rounder is fine.
It’s the conditional first-round pick that has fans and analysts worried. If Vancouver makes the playoffs, the first-rounder is in the 2020 draft—but if the Canucks aren’t involved in the draft lottery, it moves to the 2021 draft.
Obviously, the Canucks are taking the gamble that they will be a better team next season and make the playoffs. It’s also quite in line with the belief that general manager Jim Benning believes he has to make the playoffs to keep his job.
This definitely seems like someone believing they might as well make a short-term fix, because if it doesn’t work out, they won’t be around anyway.
Miller is a good player, and he will likely work very well in the Canucks’ top six, and we can see him working well with both Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat.
But while his contract isn’t much of a problem for the salary cap space laden Canucks (he earns $5.25 million a season for the next four years), it was a major issue for Tampa Bay.
The Lightning were in deep trouble trying to find space to re-sign players like star centre Brayden Point. So why did the Canucks have to include a first-round pick to take a salary cap dump from the Lightning?
Really anything other than a first would make this a pretty decent win for the Canucks. But if PK Subban basically only returns two second-rounders because of his problematic contract, how does J.T. Miller get a first?
And after four straight years of being out of the playoffs, this fanbase understandably has a very hard time picturing the club making the postseason this season. In that case, an unprotected 2021 first-rounder could spell disaster.
We like Miller as a player, we really do. He’ll fit in well with the Canucks. But the first-rounder from a team that has been picking in the top 10 since what seems like forever is just too much. Add to that the uncertainty around the pick that will follow this team like a plague for the next two years and it could be a major misstep.
Hopefully, Miller and some of the free agents that the Canucks are undoubtedly after this offseason propel the team to a late-round pick next season and we’re done talking about it. But this is the Canucks, and that is a little hard to believe.