Earlier on Wednesday, the Rangers took care of business with one of four restricted free agents. They reached agreement with J.T. Miller on a bridge deal worth a reported $2.625 million per year.
The versatile center/wing posted career bests in goals (22), assists (21) and points (43) over a full 82 games in ’15-16 while adding three assists in a first round loss to the Penguins. The 43 points tied him with restricted free agent Chris Kreider for fifth in team scoring. A first round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Miller also tied for first with teammates Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan with five game-winners. His 174 hits ranked third behind Kreider (177) and team leader Tanner Glass (224).
A gritty player who is effective on the forecheck, Miller became one of the team’s most consistent players. As the season went on, he gained coach Alain Vigneault’s trust. Miller was used on multiple lines to help provide a lift. Whether it was with American ‘mates Stepan and Kreider or with Brassard and Rick Nash, Miller fit in well. His willingness to get the dirty jersey and go to the hard areas made him a fan favorite. Passed over for the Steven McDonald Award which went to popular Norwegian and leading scorer Mats Zuccarello, the East Palestine, Ohio native showed rapid improvement.
Still only 23, Miller should only get better and play more of a role. He averaged slightly over 15 minutes a night. Figure that to increase along with added responsibility. Though at times he did make puzzling puck decisions, for the most part he was a solid overall player who should get a look on the penalty kill. He earned a spot on the second power play unit. There’s always room for strong skaters who aren’t afraid to go to the net.
The one question I have is why couldn’t Rangers’ brass try to skip the traditional bridge contract for more of a long-term. Of course, the answer is all to predictable. Handcuffed by the contracts of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, the organization simply doesn’t have enough room to go higher on a player who shows the most potential. What a shame. Assuming Miller continues to excel, in two years he’ll only cost more than he would’ve for say a five-year contract.
It’s the same approach they always take. It cost them with Stepan, who wound up earning even more than what he’s probably worth. That $6.5 million cap hit is more than Nathan MacKinnon, who just re-upped with the Avalanche for the next seven seasons. The waiting to the last minute approach isn’t working. It’s only costing the Rangers more over the long haul. What if Kreider only signs for a year and then breaks out? They’ll wind up paying exponentially more than the market value which was set by Kyle Palmieri.
Of course, that’s the price of doing business the way this team operates. No wonder they never have any cap room. Granted. Kreider is a little more tricky. He’s yet to develop consistently. He put up an identical amount of goals (21) and three fewer points (43) than his second year. A couple of years away from unrestricted status, it’ll be interesting to see what GM Jeff Gorton does with Kreider. Does he ante up for say five years at $5 million per year? Or does he make the 25-year old power forward earn it?
The same can be echoed of Kevin Hayes, who had a disappointing sophomore year. He will undoubtedly take whatever raise he gets. Dylan McIlrath also remains unsigned. So does Marek Hrivik, who probably will be back competing for a spot in training camp.