The Canucks are getting J.T. Miller back a little sooner than anyone expected.
Miller, the team’s leading scorer from last season, was in quarantine as a “high-risk close contact” of Jordie Benn, who tested positive for COVID-19 during training camp. Miller had been staying at Benn’s residence for an unknown reason.
According to both B.C. provincial health protocols and the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols, high-risk close contacts are required to quarantine. The difference between the two protocols is that B.C. requires two weeks of quarantine, while the NHL references a seven-day test strategy from the U.S. Centre for Disease Control.
Under B.C. protocols, Miller would likely not have been able to return until January 25th’s game against the Ottawa Senators, missing a total of seven games to start the season. Considering how discombobulated the Canucks’ top line has looked without Miller, there was some serious potential for an ugly losing streak to start the season.
When the province signed off on the NHL’s protocols, however, that included the shorter quarantine for high-risk close contacts.
J.T. Miller's quarantine timeline
Benn first tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, January 10th, leading to that day’s cancelled practice. Benn was presumably put into self-isolation on Sunday, as he missed Monday’s practice, but Miller attended that day’s practice because Benn’s COVID-19 test that day was negative. When Benn’s test on Tuesday came back positive for a second time, Miller was then also put into self-isolation.
Miller’s return to practice on Sunday shows that his seven-day timeline started on the previous Sunday with Benn’s positive test rather than on Tuesday when Miller went into quarantine. He flew to Calgary on a private jet and will now be available to play in the Canucks game against the Flames on Monday night.
“I was just following the protocol that I was given by the league and the government,” said Miller on Sunday. “It sucks completely. This is my job and I train for this and I’ve done three quarantines now in the last six months, so it’s not ideal at all.
“I think all you can do to stay sane is try to enjoy the family time. My wife and I talk about that I might not get time like this until I’m done playing hockey. I cherished the time with my little girls and my wife and had some fun and made the most of it.”
As frustrated as Miller was to miss the first three games of the season, he still emphasized the importance of following the protocol to keep everyone safe.
“Obviously, this thing spreads like wildfire, so I think it’s important that people do the things they can control,” he said.
The Canucks need Miller back badly
It was obvious that the Canucks would miss having Miller in the lineup. What's concerning is just how much they missed him.
Without Miller, the Canucks’ top line featured a carousel of left wingers. Jake Virtanen started all three games with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser but didn’t last long in the last couple of games, as his lack of chemistry became painfully evident. Head coach Travis Green tried Nils Höglander, Tyler Motte, Tanner Pearson, and even centres Adam Gaudette and Bo Horvat.
It’s concerning that the Canucks had to turn to a bottom-six winger like Motte and centres like Gaudette and Horvat to try to fill the void on left wing and it speaks to the team’s troubling lack of depth. Certainly, Miller is a top-tier player and difficult to replace, but the Canucks essentially had no real options.
The Canucks currently have exactly six top-six forwards — Miller, Petersson, Boeser, Pearson, Horvat, and Höglander — and one of those six is a raw rookie. If any one of them misses time, the Canucks are in a tough spot. Perhaps a player from the taxi squad like Loui Eriksson or Sven Baertschi could fill in, but what does it say when the forwards already on the roster can’t do so?
The power play will also be happy to see Miller return. While Höglander did his best to fill in on the top unit in Miller’s absence and did a credible job as an undersized net-front presence, Miller brings a completely different dynamic, controlling play on either the left or right wing and inducing more movement in a power play that tends to get stagnant at times.
That will free up Höglander to play on the second unit, which could become a legitimate threat with his skillset added to that of Gaudette, Virtanen, and Nate Schmidt at the point.
So far this season, the power play is 0-for-11, including some extended 5-on-3 time on Saturday against the Flames. Last season, the Canucks’ power play started off 0-for-10 but finished the season with the second-most power play goals in the NHL. They have to hope that Miller’s return will light the fuse once again.