The Vancouver Canucks might not trade J.T. Miller this season. But if they do, they ought to get a fantastic return.
That was true before the Calgary Flames swung a major trade for Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens. The Flames paid a hefty price for the former Canuck, who the Canadiens signed to a four-year deal worth $4.25 million per year in the 2020 offseason.
Now Toffoli is in a perfect position in the Pacific Division to make life miserable for the Canucks again, like he did during the 2020-21 season in the Canadian Division. On the other hand, his trade return might help the Canucks as well, by upping the asking price for Miller.
Toffoli brought the Canadiens a first-round pick
The Flames sent a hefty package the Canadiens’ way for Toffoli: their first-round pick in 2022, a fifth-round pick in 2023, depth forward Tyler Pitlick, and forward prospect Emil Heineman.
Canucks fans are well aware of how good Toffoli can be — he was fantastic in his 17 games with the Canucks and, frankly, should have been re-signed — so the benefit to the Flames is obvious.
For the Canadiens, Pitlick is a decent enough defensive winger with no offensive upside, but he’s clearly not the centrepiece of the deal. His inclusion in the trade was likely to balance out the cap hits for the Flames to fit Toffoli under the cap and his $1.75 million cap hit expires after this season.
The real boon to the Canadiens is the first-round pick. This season has shown that their trip to the Stanley Cup Final last season wasn’t a sign of things to come and they need to rebuild. Adding a first-round pick, even if it ends up being later in the first round, will definitely help.
A fifth-round pick and a former second-round pick in Heineman is just gravy. Heinamen is a 20-year-old Swedish winger with the ability to play up and down the lineup with his size and motor. He has 11 goals and 16 points in 36 games in the SHL this season.
If the price for Toffoli — a top-six winger with 26 points in 37 games — is a first, a fifth, and a prospect, what should the price be for J.T. Miller — a first-line centre with 48 points in 47 games?
If Miller is available, he's the top forward on the trade market
It’s not just that the Toffoli trade sets the market — it also takes a player off the market. Teams looking to add a forward as they push to win a Stanley Cup now have one fewer forward available.
Consider this: the top forwards potentially available on the trade market are Claude Giroux, Tomas Hertl, Max Domi, Phil Kessel, and J.T. Miller. Of those five players, Miller is the only one scoring at a better-than point-per-game pace. Miller can also play every forward position, plays on both sides of special teams, and is an elite faceoff man.
To top it off, Miller is on a very workable $5.25 million contract — only Kessel has a lower cap hit of those five forwards.
If Miller is traded, he’ll be the highest-scoring player moved at the trade deadline. How could the asking price for Miller not be through the roof?
That’s if Miller is traded at all, of course. Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford has thrown a weighted blanket over the idea that the team has to move someone like Miller at all, in hopes of putting the idea to sleep.
“We don't start those rumours, okay,” said Rutherford. “And then when a name is thrown out there, especially in Canada, it takes on a life of its own. So, I don't think that the names that are out there, people should automatically think that they're going to move. We do have to make some kind of moves to get some flexibility cap-wise, but it doesn't necessarily have to be with our top players.”
The Canucks haven’t been starting any rumours but the New York Rangers — one of the teams inquiring about Miller — certainly have. And the trade returns leaking to Rangers reporters are, frankly, pitiful.
Theoretical trade offers from Rangers reports are underwhelming
Larry Brooks of the New York Post suggested the least compelling offer: defenceman Nils Lundkvist and third-line centre Filip Chytil.
While Lundkvist and Chytil are both former first-round picks, that doesn’t mean they have the same value as a future first-round pick in a trade. A future first-round pick holds endless possibilities — a former first-round pick is a known quantity.
In this case, while Lundkvist and Chytil fit some of the Canucks’ needs, they’re not the needle-movers that would make trading Miller justifiable.
Lundkvist is a 21-year-old, right-handed defenceman, who was a first-round pick of the Rangers back in 2018. He’s mobile and can move the puck, but he’s also just 5’10” and had trouble defending at the NHL level while being heavily sheltered. In the AHL, he’s had middling production, with 4 points in 12 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack. That said, he's young and has potential.
At 22, Chytil also fits the age range the Canucks will be looking for and he’s also a centre, though he isn’t right-handed, which isn’t ideal. He was a first-round pick for the Rangers in 2017.
Chytil is, well, fine. He’s a third-line centre who can chip in some points, but doesn’t really drive play and isn’t a defensive stalwart. He has some sublime skill but his finish and effort have been inconsistent.
Neither Lundkvist nor Chytil are bad players — they’re both fine and have the potential to be pretty good. But when you’re trading away a first-line centre that plays in all situations and scores at a better-than point-per-game pace, you want more than “fine” and “pretty good” in return.
The Athletic’s Arthur Staple has a more reasonable, if still underwhelming, take in his most recent article:
“What’s the cost? Reports and sources say it’s the classic “pick/prospect/player” ask at the moment. Could the Rangers make it happen for their 2022 first-rounder and Nils Lundkvist? Maybe. There might need to be a third element involved, a mid-round pick or young player equivalent; that could get pricier as time goes on and more teams inquire.”
Starting with a first-round pick makes a lot more sense. Top-six forwards at the trade deadline typically cost at least a first-round pick, and that’s just for rentals — Miller has another year on his contract after this one.
Adding Lundkvist and another pick or player starts to look like a more reasonable package but Staple’s point at the end is key: things could get pricier as the trade deadline approaches, more teams are looking to add pieces to their team, and other forwards are taken off the market.
The Canucks can afford to be patient with Miller
There’s no rush for general manager Patrik Allvin to trade Miller — as Rutherford said, they might not trade him at all. As the March 21 trade deadline draws near and more teams get involved, the offers are likely to get better. There could be the opportunity to play teams against each other, using one team's offer to extract a richer offer from the other team.
If the offers are not good enough at this trade deadline — like these theoretical offers from the Rangers — Allvin can afford to wait. There will be opportunities at the NHL Entry Draft or the offseason to trade Miller. It might even be easier in the offseason when teams have more salary cap flexibility. The Canucks could even just keep Miller and look to re-sign him.
That’s a position of strength from which the Canucks can look to make the best deal possible. If they do make a deal, the trade return for Miller ought to blow the return for Toffoli out of the water.