Vancouver Canucks’ Blunder: Miller over Lack


It has been a frustrating summer so far for the Vancouver Canucks, and fans will continue to scratch their heads at the offseason as Canucks General Manager Jim Benning told a group of fans that the club had an opportunity to trade veteran netminder Ryan Miller, but instead opted to move fan-favorite Eddie Lack.

Let’s just recap some of the facts: Miller is 35 years old, carries a cap hit of $6 million for the next two seasons, and finished the season with .911 save percentage in 45 games played.  Lack is 27, has one more year remaining on his contract at a $1.15 million cap hit and had a .921 save percentage in 41 games played.

Benning said that the Vancouver Canucks wanted to maintain a veteran goalie and pair him with a kid (that “kid” will presumably be Jacob Markstrom.)  The question that I (and I’m sure most Canuck fans have) is “why?”  Why was it imperative to retain Miller?

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I’ve written before that I think Miller’s reputation far exceeds his actual on-ice play and quite frankly, nothing he did last year in Vancouver dispels that notion for me either.  He continues to string together seasons of average play and playoff futility.  I don’t think any game personified the “Ryan Miller experience” more than being shellacked in game 6 against Calgary in the playoffs last season…just another disappointing playoff effort for a goalie that has had little playoff success over the last decade.

Yes, Lack didn’t exactly light the world on fire for the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs.  But it was his first taste of playoff hockey and it’s unfair to call him a playoff failure after a small, four-game sample size.  In his career, he’s played in a season’s worth of games for the Canucks and Lack has posted a solid .917 save percentage over two seasons.

In fact, Lack excelled with an increased workload.  When Miller went down with injury on February 22nd, many thought the Canucks’ playoff chances went down with him.  However, Lack posted a 13-7-2 record and a .927 save percentage with Miller out, more than proving his worth and ability to carry a team as its number one goalie.

Again, it begs the question: what were the Vancouver Canucks thinking choosing Miller over Lack?

Financially, keeping Miller and his excessive contract over Lack doesn’t make immediate sense.  The Canucks only have about $4.2 million in cap space available and only 20 players signed (according to  Whether or not they would be able to lure potential free agents is a different question, but they appear to have missed an opportunity to save nearly $5 million in cap space by moving Lack instead of Miller.

The only financial reason that makes sense is if the Canucks thought an extension for Lack would be unreasonable and had no interest in committing to him.  While that could make sense, goalies like Martin Jones ($3 million), Antti Niemi ($4.5 million), and Devan Dubnyk ($4.3 million) all signed contracts this off-season and none of them appear to have broken the bank.  Those contracts are fair comparisons for Lack as he’s set to hit unrestricted free agency next summer if a team believes he is a number one starter (which he is, in my opinion.)

How about the trade return?  It’s difficult to fault a team for trading a player if they believe they have depth at that position in order to improve a weakness.  However, the Vancouver Canucks seemed to miss the boat on trade returns for a goalie, only netting third and seventh round draft picks.  Compare that to the returns for Cam Talbot (second, third, and seventh round picks), Robin Lehner (with David Legwand returned a first round pick), and Martin Jones (first round pick and a prospect), and it seems that the Canucks dropped the ball here with Lack and failed to maximize his value.

If Benning is being truthful, perhaps he just couldn’t find a suitable return to move Miller?  Perhaps that was the case if the other team demanded the Canucks take back a bloated contract in return (we’ll never know the other proposals, I’m sure.)  But if he were offered a similar package that Carolina gave up for Lack, and Benning turned it down, then, just wow…wow…wow.  I don’t know what else to say there.

The Vancouver Canucks have built a veteran roster with the objective to win now.  But, in a division with the Anaheim Ducks, an improving Flames squad, dangerous teams primed for bounce back season in the Kings and Sharks, and youthful teams on the rise in the Oilers and Coyotes, the Canucks’ window to be a contender is closing, if it hasn’t closed already.  But keeping Ryan Miller over Eddie Lack is just a short-sighted move by an organization that would improve its long-term health by embracing youth and using Lack as a core member going forward, not the overrated Miller.  Too late for that now.

Lack was just entering his prime years while Miller is nearing the end of his career.  Lack was more effective than Miller during the season and is set to make significantly less money.  Did Benning believe that trading Miller would send a signal to the roster and fans that the team would focus on youth, and not the aging veterans?  Or is Benning just blowing smoke when he says he could have traded Miller, but opted not to?

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the Vancouver Canucks will be worse off for this move now and in the future.

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