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Canucks biggest bargaining chip in a J.T. Miller trade is not needing to trade him at all

The Canucks hold all the cards heading into the trade deadline and anyone looking to acquire J.T. Miller will need to pay a high price.
J.T. Miller has been in the rumour mill for weeks. Will the Vancouver Canucks trade him ahead of the trade deadline in a month's time?

Over the past three years, only 15 players in the NHL have more points than J.T. Miller and they’re a who’s who of some of the best players in the league, like Alex Ovechkin, David Pastrnak, and Nathan MacKinnon.

This season, Miller is once again putting up more than a point per game, with 18 goals and 53 points in 50 games. He’s doing that while winning faceoffs at a 53.5% clip, playing over two minutes per game on the penalty kill, and all for just a $5.25 million cap hit.

Frankly, teams around the NHL should be tripping all over themselves to acquire Miller if the Canucks make him available. It’s not very often a player of his calibre at that type of cap hit is available at the trade deadline, particularly when he’s not a rental — he has another year on his contract at that minuscule cap hit — so the theoretical high demand for his services means the Canucks should be able to ask for an astronomical price.

Other GMs wouldn’t be doing their job, of course, if they didn’t try to lowball the Canucks. Early rumours linked Miller with his former team, the New York Rangers, but the potential trade packages that leaked to the media were underwhelming, centring around good, but not blue-chip, prospect Nils Lundkvist.

Now the rumour mill has centred around the Toronto Maple Leafs after Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman opined that the Leafs could potentially be interested. With Jake Muzzin likely heading to LTIR after a scary head injury against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs may have some additional cap space available to make a deal.

Maybe it’s nothing, but CHEK’s Rick Dhaliwal confirmed that the Leafs inquired with the Canucks about the asking price for Miller.

That asking price should be significant. Theoretically, it should start with a first-round pick and a top prospect, then go from there. 

For the Leafs, that likely means a prospect like Topi Niemelä, a 19-year-old, right-handed defenceman who has developed from a third-round pick to a legitimate high-end prospect with top-pairing potential at the NHL level. Niemelä, who is currently second among defencemen in scoring in the Finnish Liiga, could potentially play alongside Quinn Hughes on the top pairing or anchor a second pairing for years to come.

There are some who think Niemelä should be untouchable for the Leafs, but that’s the type of price the Canucks should be demanding for Miller. 

If the Canucks are going to move Miller, it can’t be for a collection of castoffs — sorry to Leafs fans trying to unload Alex Kerfoot — but for the types of players who could define the franchise for the future. 

If that type of value isn’t on the table, the Canucks have the best possible bargaining chip: they can take away the table entirely.

The Canucks have been clear all along. They don’t have to move anybody right now, least of all Miller. If Miller was a pending unrestricted free agent, there would definitely be some pressure to move him at the trade deadline to avoid losing him for nothing in free agency, and another team could leverage that pressure to pay a lesser price for Miller in a trade.

Since Miller has another year on his contract, the Canucks hold all the cards. This isn’t a case where the Canucks have to take the best offer they get — they can take no offer at all.

“I’m not just going to trade a player to get the media buzz going,” joked Canucks GM Patrik Allvin on the Donnie and Dhali show. “We want to do what’s right for the long term here.

“Regarding J.T. Miller, he’s been probably the most consistent, best player on the team…He plays the right way and he’s a really good hockey player.”

That doesn’t mean the Canucks won’t move Miller, they just don’t have to rush it. It’s entirely possible that the trade market in the offseason would be even stronger for Miller. More teams than just this season’s Cup contenders might be interested in making a deal and there’s a lot more cap flexibility in the offseason.

The Canucks are going to have to make difficult decisions in order to improve the team. That means potentially moving a fan-favourite player like Miller, Brock Boeser, or Bo Horvat, even if such a move would be painful in the short term. 

“We have to make some tough decisions, maybe unpopular ones at times,” said Canucks president Jim Rutherford, “to be able to get younger players, build up that depth, and bring this together in the next few years.”

Keeping Miller would certainly be popular with his teammates, who believe they can still make a push for the playoffs this season. It would be popular with fans who have grown to love his grit, passion, and clutch scoring. If the right deal for Miller doesn't come along, the Canucks can push the unpopular decisions a little bit further down the road.