Islanders Unlikely to Trade for J.T. Miller After Rough Free Agency

The New York Islanders entered the offseason with a promising start. The NHL Entry Draft was highlighted by the acquisition of defenseman Alexander Romanov but also by selecting multiple defensemen that will inevitably improve the unit. Unfortunately, with the Islanders hoping to address the forward unit and add a star, they came up short in the sweepstakes for Johnny Gaudreau as the star forward signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Suddenly, the Islanders’ options have been limited as free agency winds down. Along with most of the star players having signed, players on most teams will unlikely get moved in the offseason as well. One of those forwards was Vancouver Canucks J.T. Miller, who was garnering interest from the Islanders and a handful of teams ahead of free agency.

Related: New York Islanders Miss Out On Gaudreau – What Comes Next?

However, Miller is also a player the Islanders went from hopefully adding to an unlikely target. The Islanders’ offseason, along with the Canucks free agency as well as the rest of the league’s decisions, have made such an addition an unlikely one for an otherwise eager general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello.

Lamoriello’s Hope to Make a Splash

After missing out on Gaudreau, there is a sense of urgency for Lamoriello to make a big move and acquire a star. The Romanov addition significantly upgraded the roster, but the Islanders still needed help in the top-six of the forward unit. Moreover, after missing out on Artemi Panarin in the 2019 offseason with the rival New York Rangers landing him, Lamoriello looked poised to not miss out again on elite talent. Instead, the team is left empty-handed and searching for secondary options.

Miller would fulfill that need for the Islanders. A reliable top-line forward, he could play the center position but also on the wing to compliment Mathew Barzal’s speed skating or become a puck distributor for Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. Miller isn’t at the same level as Gaudreau, who finished last season in fourth place in the Hart Trophy voting, but he still would put the Islanders’ offense over the top and be the missing piece in the current roster.

J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, as intriguing as acquiring Miller is, the Islanders will be the initial team to pump the brakes on a big move to acquire him. Lamoriello will wait for the best offer and won’t make a risky decision or a knee-jerk reaction to acquire a forward. For better or worse, this has been Lamoriello’s strategy as the team’s executive. This strategy cost the Islanders in the Gaudreau sweepstakes, as he wouldn’t budge from the offer provided and exceed the $10 million per season threshold that would likely sway the star scorer. However, waiting for the best offer has also led to the Islanders being a competitive team throughout his tenure, and when Lamoriello was the GM of the Devils, his patience helped lead the team to three Stanley Cup titles.

Canucks’ Outlook Into Next Season

The Canucks suddenly have little to no urge to move on from one of their best players, especially with how free agency has unfolded. With the Calgary Flames taking a step back, notably with the loss of Gaudreau, the Canucks suddenly look like one of the better teams in the Pacific Division. Furthermore, the team acquired depth to the forward unit in free agency, signing Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year deal while also adding Curtis Lazar on a three-deal deal.

The additions only strengthened a Canucks roster that possessed a good defense and great goaltending behind starter Thatcher Demko. As a result, they look to be one of the better teams in the Pacific Division, and Miller will play a big role in the team’s success. The Canucks went 20-10-6 following the All-Star break last season and had a resurgence under head coach Bruce Boudreau who took over the team midseason. With an improved roster, the team hopes to take a big leap in the Western Conference.

The Islanders can hope the Canucks struggle next season and make Miller available, especially since the star forward is playing in the final year of his contract. However, a lot needs to go in the Islanders’ favor, and essentially Miller is another player off the market for them to acquire.

Other Forwards the Islanders Can Target

With a quiet start to free agency, Lamoriello, who hoped to make a splash this offseason, now has limited options. Gaudreau was the prioritized player that was taken off the board but shortly after, Ondrej Palat was signed by the rival Devils. Palat was the wild card for the Islanders as the veteran forward proved he was a star with the Tampa Bay Lightning and would add a unique touch in the offensive zone, but instead, the Devils made the move for him.

Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This leaves the Islanders with Nazem Kadri, who is a unique center and in a different free agency situation. The Islanders can pay Kadri handsomely, and while he wouldn’t necessarily put the offense over the top, he would find open skaters in the offensive zone while also eliminating opponents in the center of the defensive zone. Moreover, the veteran forward found a home with the Colorado Avalanche, a team where he is a perfect fit in the middle of the forward unit. However, for him to remain with Avalanche, he needs to take a team-friendly deal as they are pressed against the salary cap.

With free agents off the board, the other option for the Islanders that remains is the trade market, which is more likely to heat up at the trade deadline next season than in the offseason. Patrick Kane is the most likely elite player to get moved, especially since the Chicago Blackhawks are expected to have one of the worst records in the league next year, but there are a handful of players the Islanders will closely monitor. If the Boston Bruins end up taking a step back next season, they could look to trade David Pastrnak, who, like Kane, is playing next season on the final year of his contract. Similarly, the St. Louis Blues enter next season with both Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly on expiring contracts, and they could be a team looking to move on from one of the two players.

Lamoriello’s offseason took a turn for the worst in only a matter of days. After acquiring Romanov, this offseason had high hopes for the team and the fan base, but suddenly things look grim. The options to improve the offense appear limited, but Lamoriello might have to make a major move, especially since the pressure is on him to turn the Islanders around next season.

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