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J.T. Miller is Heating Up at the Right Time

Amidst rumors leading up to the NHL trade deadline, J.T. Miller is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Whether or not he gets moved, his play is a positive for both him and the Vancouver Canucks.
J.T. Miller

J.T. Miller has been kind of unstoppable recently.

Since Feb. 12 – 10 games ago for Miller – he has racked up 21 points to sit just one behind Mitch Marner, who has three games in hand. His 2.10 points-per-game run is only bested by Nick Schmaltz's 2.25, but 11 of his 18 points in that stand have come in back-to-back games this week.

And, really, there has never been a better time for Miller to play completely out of his mind.

Miller has been in heavy trade rumors since the season opened up, and a constant topic among Lyle Richardson's Rumor Roundup column this year. But the way he's playing, he's making it hard for the Canucks to truly move on from its leading scorer.

Miller's name emerged as a trade target due to having a reasonable salary at $5.25 million until the end of 2022-23. For a team needing a scoring punch, Miller was a high-priority target, and he wasn't going to just be a rental, either. The Canucks weren't seen as contenders, but have the pieces to build upon a reasonable future if the team decided to hold on to its 28-year-old winger. Miller has 67 points in 56 games – five points behind the career-high 72 points he scored in his first season in Vancity.

It's safe to question if Miller has become untradeable at this point -- and that might not be a bad thing. GM Jim Rutherford has used the term "retool" to describe the team's direction, and with Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko to build around, they definitely don't need a full-blown rebuild. 

Vancouver is three points behind Dallas for the second wild-card spot, while boasting an 8-2-0 record over the past 10 games. A playoff run isn't completely out of the question, and Miller makes this team significantly better. Miller's 8.4 goals-above-replacement and 1.5 wins-above-replacement are second on the Canucks behind Conor Garland, another tantalizing forward in the rumor mill. 

A couple of weeks ago, the mindset certainly trended towards the Canucks looking to patch things up for the future and move contracts for assets. But the team can't stop winning, and Miller can't stop producing. It makes moving any of the team's key pieces away much harder to justify.

If the Canucks are going to trade him, his value has never been higher. GM Patrik Allvin doesn't need to move Miller, but there's no shortage of teams looking to add cap-friendly scoring and the return could be huge. 

But clearly, with Bruce Boudreau on the bench, the Canucks are playing like a team on a mission. The race for the final spots in the west is... wild, no pun intended, and the Canucks are very much part of it. So the team has to look at whether they think they can make some headway, advance to the post-season, and address its needs during the off-season, or whether it's worth focusing on the future.

Obviously, teams want to win, and the Canucks mostly clearly think they can. But they can't let a playoff appearance – short or not – take away from the issues that made this team so uncompetitive until widespread changes finally took place. This is still a flawed lineup. They've won the same number of games (29) as they've lost (between regulation and overtime). The Canucks don't have a second-round pick and traded its original third-rounder for 2022. And then there's the future of Brock Boeser to deal with and a below-average prospect pool. 

That's why moving Miller for assets has been such a prominent figure in trade discussions this season. There's a very real possibility Miller won't be re-signed and will become a big rental piece next summer. He'll be 30 when he's a UFA, which is always a tough age to deal with for big scoring forwards. Maybe he doesn't hit it off next season and his value drops. Or, maybe the Canucks can figure things out in the playoffs and Miller remains a positive offensive leader heading into the summer.

At the very least, be glad you're not the one making that decision. But with how Miller is playing leading up to the trade deadline, it's a win-win for the Canucks whether they keep him or move him – assuming Allvin can get more for Miller than Jim Benning could ever dream of.

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