Reviewing The Draft: J.T. Miller Trade

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J.T. Miller

Heading into the 2019 NHL Draft, Lightning fans didn’t have to much to be excited for. In a perfect world, Tampa would be forfeiting their first-round pick to the Rangers to complete the trade condition of winning the cup in the Ryan McDonagh deal. As we all know, the Bolts were swept early and that means keeping their first rounder.

The first round of the draft had a few surprises but for the most part, it was void of any major deals. Jack Hughes went first overall, Kaapo Kakko went second as and then Chicago went a bit off the board by selecting gritty winger Kirby Dach at the No. 3 spot. Any fans in attendance hoping for big trades were extremely let down and although a couple of teams swapped picks, there was zero action completed on the draft floor.

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Yzerman made a big reach at the sixth spot in selecting Moritz Seider, the lone German in the draft and his first pick as Detroit’s new GM. Cole Caufield was breaking draft parties hearts all over the country when Montreal finally capitalized at 15th overall. The small forward will be looking to punish teams the same way Alex DeBrincat did, making every team regret passing him over.

When it was Tampa Bay’s turn they selected power forward Nolan Foote 27th overall. Nolan is the younger brother of Cal Foote, the Lightning’s first rounder from last year. He plays a strong game and has the hockey smarts and IQ expected from a strong hockey family. I was hesitant on the pick at the time, he’s not the guy I had pegged on my board.

Right after Caufield, Alex Newhook, Peyton Krebs, and Ville Heinola were taken (all great value picks by the way) I was on Hog watch. That’s Swedish forward Nils Hoglander, and to many scratching skulls, he fell in this draft a little further than expected. He plays like a fireball shot out of a cannon and has some of the best hands in the draft. He has all the skills necessary to perform in this league. In the end, the Lightning wanted to draft a bigger player who uses his size and that’s exactly what they’ll get from Nolan Foote. After seeing what the Lightning would do on day two of the draft, it made even more sense for them to draft Foote. 

Day Two Trade Frenzy

The action really started to unfold on the second day of the draft which featured rounds two through seven. P.K. Subban’s name was buzzing all week and then out of left field, he was traded to the scariest team in the Metropolitan Division. As far as mascots go. The New Jersey Devils landed Subban from Nashville for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and a pair of second-round picks.

Ray Shero and the Devils were one of the only teams willing to comply with Nashville GM David Poile, who requested the team take on the entire $9 million of Subban’s contract. The return on the trade amounted to peanuts for the Predators. However, with the emergence of a cheaper and maybe more effective Mattias Ekholm and the potential for a run at Matt Duchene, the move was ultimately a cap dump. David Poile admitted to becoming a weaker team at the moment without Subban but understood the cap relief to be more valuable in the long run. 

Bolts Ship J.T. Miller to Vancouver

Following the news of Subban being shipped out of Nashville, the action on the draft floor started to heat up. It’s at this moment Lightning GM Julien Brisebois struck a deal with Vancouver. In my last article, I said it was imperative that Tampa deal one of Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat or J.T. Miller to create much-needed cap space for the club. With Brayden Point still needing a big contract and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Sergachev needing contracts next year, the team had to make a move. Ultimately it was Millers modified NTC that made him expendable as the other names were a hard ask to lift their full NTC.

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Brisebois found a suitor in Jim Benning and the Vancouver Canucks. The move helped Tampa free up cap space but, more importantly, they acquired a conditional first rounder from a rebuilding team. The full trade will read Miller for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third (G – Hugo Alnefelt) and a conditional 2020 first. That pick turns into a 2021 first round pick if Vancouver misses the playoffs this year.

Now while I do think Vancouver will continue to get better, there could still be some growing pains. I’m not saying this will be lottery pick for Tampa. However, it’s definitely a good pick to hang onto.

Before the details of the trade were released, I was only expecting a second in return. As Hoglander fell in the draft, I hoped that Tampa would ask for Vancouver’s 2019 second round pick to select him. Ultimately, Jim Benning kept the pick and chose Hoglander. One of my top sleepers in the draft, I look forward to seeing what Hoglander can do in Vancouver. As it turns out, the Lightning received a conditional first instead. A return Lightning fans should be ecstatic with the return. A few weeks ago the Lightning were in cap hell. But now, they have enough room to sign Point and take a serious run at a UFA like Joe Pavelski. 

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After seeing Toronto in a troubling cap situation it was not an ideal situation for the Bolts to be in. In order to dump Patrick Marleau’s contract, the Maple Leafs had to kick in a first round pick. In addition, the Predators received the equivalent of spare parts in order to drop Subban’s contract. So, it’s fair to say Brisebois did a great job of getting a great return.

Other teams were not motivated to help Tampa Bay out in a trade. The reigning President’s Trophy winners were up against the cap wall and could have easily paid more to shed Miller’s contract. With four years remaining at $5.25m a season, the deal is relatively friendly. However, it speaks to the situation the Bolts were in given their other superstars. In a perfect world, the Lighting would love to keep him.

Miller is an underrated top six addition to a team that desperately needed to give Bo Horvat some suitable top six wingers. His best linemates have been Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen and Horvat has somehow continued to produce. Imagine what kind of season he could have with two solid wingers. Miller is a more effective option than Virtanen. He’s a versatile fit anywhere in the top nine and will definitely help this young club. I didn’t want to see Miller go, he was one of the bigger forwards for the Lightning and his impact will be missed.

It’s clear, Brisebois knew what he was doing selecting Nolan Foote with the intention of flipping Miller. The Lightning prospect pool has plenty of speedy skilled players, but they have enough of that on their roster. What the Bolts needed was to start adding some size. Something very evident by watching this years playoffs. Foote won’t be rushed but it was important adding him to the depth charts for this club moving forward.

Cap implications?

After shedding Millers $5.25 million off the books, the Lightning are left with $10.6 million in cap space. To add to that, Ryan Callahan can no longer play professional hockey which will open more cap space for the Bolts. Now, while his cap hit won’t come off the books, it will allow the club to spend $5.8 million over the cap limit. It’s a rough number anytime your exceeding the cap. In addition, dealing with LTIR and season escrow muddies it further but Tampa has roughly 15-16M in cap space for the year. A lot more than some fans thought they would have at this point in the summer.

Re-signing Point becomes the next big obstacle here. I’m expecting anything between the $8-9 million range nothing more. It’s important how the dominos fall with all these RFA’s. I’d love for Tampa to jump in front of the pack and be one of the first to sign their coveted RFA superstars. If we see a few $10 million contracts handed out to Mikko Rantanen and/or Mitch Marner that would drive the price through the roof for Point’s camp. Signing early means avoiding the new market rate and becoming THE market rate.

I like what I’ve seen so far from Julien BriseBois but he’s got lots of work left to come out anything close to Yzerman’s near-perfect image. Let’s see what the Lightning can do with all this newfound cap room. 

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