NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – September 3, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – September 3, 2022

The Canucks sign J.T. Miller to a seven-year contract extension, the Jets ink Sam Gagner to a one-year deal, the Oilers add Ryan Murray on a one-year contract, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.

VANCOUVER HOCKEY NOW: The Canucks signed J.T. Miller on Friday to a seven-year, $56 million contract extension that goes into effect in 2023-24. The average annual value is $8 million and includes a no-movement clause throughout the deal, with a full no-trade clause for the first four years and a modified NTC over the final three.

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (NHL Images).

Miller, 29, is in the final season of his current contract with an AAV of $5.25 million. He would’ve become an unrestricted free agent next July. As a result, he was the subject of media trade speculation for months amid reports that Canucks management wanted to retool around younger, more affordable talent.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Miller tallied a team-leading, career-best 99 points last season. If his production were to drop to between 70-80 points for the coming season, he still would’ve been in line for over $9 million annually if he had hit the open market next summer. His strong two-way game and ability to play center or left wing would’ve drawn plenty of suitors willing to pay big bucks for his services.

Miller’s agent, Brian Bartlett, said this deal came together very quickly after weeks of on-and-off negotiations. He indicated that his client wanted to stay in Vancouver and help the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. It was also Miller’s idea to accept less than market value.

Nevertheless, this is a hefty long-term investment by the Canucks on a talented player who will be 30 when this deal goes into effect. He should still provide solid value for them in the first half but that contract could become burdensome against their cap in the latter years when his performance will likely decline.

Miller’s new contract could also affect efforts to re-sign captain Bo Horvat, who is slated to become a UFA next summer. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $68 million invested in 14 players for 2023-24 with the cap expected to increase by just $1 million to $83.5 million. Horvat’s current AAV is $5.5 million and he could seek around $7.5 million annually, which would take a big bite out of their cap space.

Still, the Canucks were willing to spend to keep their best player in the fold. The move signals to their fans that they believe they’re a playoff contender heading into the coming season and beyond. If Miller can help them become Cup contenders, it will be money well spent.

WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets signed free agent Sam Gagner to a one-year, $750K contract.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A good, affordable depth move by the Jets. The 33-year-old Gagner can play at center or right wing and still has solid two-way skills. He’s coming off a respectable 31-point performance last season with the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings.

TSN: The Edmonton Oilers signed defenseman Ryan Murray to a one-year, $750K deal.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chosen second overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2012 NHL Draft, Murray’s NHL career has been frequently hampered by injuries. The most recent was a fractured hand last season while playing with the Colorado Avalanche. Still, he should be a decent cost-effective depth addition on the Oilers’ third pairing.

NEW YORK POST: The Rangers are bringing back Jimmy Vesey on a professional tryout contract. He began his NHL career with the Blueshirts in 2016-17 and spent three seasons with them before moving on to the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils.

STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis Blues are bringing Tyler Pitlick to training camp later this month on a professional tryout offer. The well-traveled forward has played for the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens over the past four seasons.

Flames Acquire Toffoli From Canadiens

Flames Acquire Toffoli From Canadiens

In the first major deal before the March 21 trade deadline, the Calgary Flames acquired forward Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected), a 2024 fifth-round pick, prospect Emil Heineman and veteran forward Tyler Pitlick.

Montreal Canadiens winger Tyler Toffoli (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Flames receive a versatile two-way forward in Toffoli. He played for Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter during their days with the Los Angeles Kings so it shouldn’t take him long to reacquaint himself with Sutter’s system. The Flames were seeking secondary scoring as they push to secure a playoff berth and he should fit the bill. Toffoli’s not a rental so he’ll benefit their offense beyond this season.

Toffoli’s $4.25 million leaves the Flames with $54.45 million in projected cap space for 2022-23 invested in 12 players. It’ll be interesting to see what effect his acquisition will have upon their efforts to re-sign restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk and unrestricted free agent winger Johnny Gaudreau, who will both seek significant raises after this season.

I confess being surprised by this move as I felt the Canadiens might prefer retaining Toffoli given his affordable contract. Most pundits expected defenseman Ben Chiarot to be the first Hab dealt before the trade deadline.

This move likely signals the start of a rebuild by Canadiens VP of Hockey Ops Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes. They now have two picks in the first round of this year’s draft, with their own potentially being first-overall if they win the draft lottery. Shedding Toffoli’s contract gives them $79.8 million invested in 10 players next season, though they’ll get $7.857 million in cap relief if necessary with Shea Weber on permanent long-term injury reserve.

Elite Prospects indicates Heineman, 20, is a 2020 second-round selection by the Florida Panthers who was dealt to the Flames last year in the Sam Bennett trade. He’s a speedy 6’1”, 185-pound two-way forward who can skate on either win. He has 11 goals and 16 points in 36 games this season with the Swedish Hockey League’s Leksands IF. 

Pitlick, 30, is a veteran checking-line forward and the cousin of Canadiens forward Rem Pitlick. He’s a UFA next summer and will likely be a short-term pickup for the Habs.