The biggest name remaining in NHL free agency is finally off the market. On Thursday, the Calgary Flames signed Nazem Kadri, fresh off of winning the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, to a seven-year deal worth $7 million per year.
To paraphrase everyone who writes about the Toronto Maple Leafs, what does this mean for the Vancouver Canucks?
The Flames remain tops in the Pacific
In terms of the Pacific Division, it means the Canucks will still have a tough time making the playoffs. Anyone hoping that the Flames would be significantly worse next season is likely to be disappointed. It seemed like the Flames were going to be in some serious trouble, losing Johnny Gaudreau to free agency and having to deal with Matthew Tkachuk refusing to sign a long-term deal, but Flames GM Brad Treliving managed to spin that straw into gold.
The Tkachuk trade brought back Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar and now they’ve added Kadri to boot. There’s an argument to be made that the Flames actually got better this offseason, particularly with the addition of the underrated Weegar to their defence corps.
Long-term, the Flames might have issues, as Kadri’s and Huberdeau’s contracts take them well into their thirties, but when it comes to maximizing their current Stanley Cup window, the moves make a lot of sense.
At the very least, the Flames should still be the class of the Pacific Division, along with the Edmonton Oilers. That leaves the Canucks competing with the resurgent Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights for the last playoff spot, assuming the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Seattle Kraken continue to struggle.
With the Golden Knights losing Robin Lehner for the season to hip surgery, the battle for the playoffs is open in the Pacific, but it won’t be an easy path for the Canucks.
The bigger question, however, is what does Kadri’s contract mean for J.T. Miller?
Miller is due for a bigger raise than Kadri's
Miller currently has one year left on his contract with a cap hit of $5.25 million. He’s in line for a massive raise on his next deal after proving himself as a top-tier first-line forward with the Canucks. Does Kadri’s seven-year deal say anything about how big that raise might be?
It’s not hard to see the similarities between Kadri and Miller. Both are two-way centres with an edge to their game. They’re both strong in the faceoff circle, good on the power play, and they have a very similar career points-per-game — 0.71 for Miller and 0.69 for Kadri.
The most important similarity, however, is that they’re both coming off career years where they finished in the top-20 in NHL scoring after spending the bulk of their careers as mid-tier players. Miller put up 99 points in 80 games — 1.24 points per game — while Kadri had 87 points in 71 games — 1.23 points per game. That is remarkably similar.
There are differences, of course. Kadri doesn’t kill penalties and is a few years older than Miller — he’ll be 32 at the start of next season. Miller will be 30 when his new contract kicks in next season and has more than just last season to his credit — he has 217 points in 202 games over his last three seasons with the Canucks.
With that in mind, fans shouldn’t hope that Kadri’s 7x7 deal will provide a template for Miller’s next contract. Miller provides more versatility with his ability to play on the wing and kill penalties, has a stronger track record over the last few seasons, and is younger than Kadri. His next contract will come at a steeper price than Kadri’s.
Consider that Tomas Hertl, who has never cracked a point-per-game in his career, got an eight-year contract extension worth $8.1 million per year. Miller’s agent, who tweeted a “show me the money” gif after Hertl’s contract was announced, will be looking for an even richer deal for Miller.
According to multiple sources, including Miller himself, the two sides are a long way apart on a potential contract extension right now and, according to Miller’s agent, Brian Bartlett, the two sides haven’t talked since the draft.
It’s understandable that they would be far apart. The Canucks are not even a surefire playoff team yet, which makes it difficult to commit big money on a long-term deal. On Miller’s side, this is his last chance to cash in on a big deal in his hockey career.
There’s a reason why the possibility of a trade continues to loom over Miller and the Canucks. Does Kadri’s deal with the Flames make that possibility more likely?
Will teams that struck out on Kadri aim for Miller?
Teams that were hoping to land Kadri in free agency may now have to turn to the trade market. One of those teams was the New York Islanders, who also nearly made a trade with the Canucks at the draft. Now might be the right time for the Canucks to circle back and rekindle those trade talks.
One sticking point might be that the Canucks are not allowing potential trade partners to discuss a contract extension with Miller’s camp, something that Bartlett confirmed to Chek TV’s Rick Dhaliwal. With contract talks between Miller and the Canucks at a stalemate, perhaps general manager Patrik Allvin would be more open to that possibility now.
There is another possibility — the Avalanche. With Kadri leaving Colorado, that leaves a hole at second-line centre for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Since the Avalanche didn’t have money available to spend on Kadri, it’s doubtful that they could make enough room to sign Miller long-term. That means he would just be a one-year rental, but if they’re aiming to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, they need to fill the gap in the lineup left by Kadri.
Miller would have to be a tempting proposition for the Avalanche to fill that gap, as he ticks so many of the same boxes as Kadri. Would they be willing to offer enough in a trade for one year of Miller to make it worth it for the Canucks? That’s the question that needs to be answered.
The Canucks had made it clear that they are perfectly content to have Miller come to training camp without a contract extension, but the Canucks can’t afford to lose him for nothing to free agency. With a month remaining until training camp, the next several weeks could be very interesting in Vancouver.