By Neal Lyons
Kevan Miller represents everything the blue-collar hockey fan loves in a player. He’s grittier than Gritty, tough as nails, and will do everything in his power to help his hockey team win. What he lacks in skill, he more than makes up for with raw heart and soul. Warrior is a word thrown around pretty liberally in the hockey world, but Kevan Miller is a legit example.
The California native originally signed with the B’s as a college free agent, in 2011, after captaining the University of Vermont for two seasons. He then spent the better part of the next three seasons giving the Bruins no choice but to reward him with a one-way deal, in 2014.
Since then, the only thing that has kept him out of the Bruin lineup has been his health. Miller has only played more than 70 games once in his career. In 2015/16, he dressed for 71 games. To date, hat season was also his most offensively productive. It was a performance that earned him his current four years, $10 million, deal. He’ll become a free agent next July 1.
This past year, he only played in 39 games, the lowest total of his career. If that wasn’t already tough enough, he suffered a season-ending knee injury (fractured kneecap) in the second last game of the regular season. The ‘Cup run was accomplished without his services, while fans and management got a chance to get to know Connor Clifton a little better.
So, as the 2019/20 season dawns, where does Kevan Miller fit?
Before diving in, it should be noted that we don’t even know when Miller will be ready for duty. He’s still working his way back from the aforementioned knee injury, suffered in early April. Last I heard, Brian Lawton of NHL Network had leaked the possibility of Miller starting the season on LTIR… It should also be noted that if the Bruins still don’t have McAvoy and Carlo signed, there is nothing to debate. Boston will be praying for a healthy Miller. Without those two, he’s probably slotting into the top pair, next to Z.
For now, though, we’re just going assume that Miller is healthy and that 73 & 25 are inked.
The most significant factor in Miller’s favor is that he’s a right shot. The Bruins are very thin on that side. McAvoy, Carlo, Clifton/Kampfer/Miller are pretty much it. Add in Alex Petrovic, who has been brought in on a PTO, as another option. The Bruins’ top right-handed prospect, Axel Andersson, was still clawing for minutes in the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second-highest league), last season. Consider him still years away, at best.
If push comes to shove, Grzelcyk and Moore have also eaten some right side minutes. Neither has looked overly comfortable on their offside though, so here’s hoping that this is an option the Bruins can avoid, moving forward.
Let’s start with Connor Clifton. If he shows up looking like the player we saw for 37 games (19 regulars, 18 playoffs) last year, the bottom pair spot alongside Grz has to be considered his. He’s younger, with a better skill-set than Miller, and even though he’s smaller, the kid doesn’t let that stop him from mixing it up on a nightly basis. There may still be certain games where Cassidy would elect to ice Miller’s experience over Clifton, but those would have to be considered few and far between.
In Kampfer, the Bruins have a different animal. Though just a year younger than Miller, he’s more of a modern-day, puck mover. He’s a guy who can give you quality minutes, make the smart first pass to get it out of the zone, and also take on some PP looks. You’d have to think that Miller would still slot in above Kampfer but, in Kampfer, you’re getting the type of minutes that Miller and Clifton can’t provide. In the end, Boston may opt for variety over redundancy. If they do, Miller becomes the fifth RHD on the depth chart.
Word is Petrovic turned down two-way offers from other teams to gamble on a PTO with the Bruins. If he genuinely believes his best bet for a one-way deal is with Boston, either Miller is more hurt than we’re being led to believe, or he’s being shipped out ASAP. Petrovic won’t make the Bruins any better, but also won’t make them any worse (especially from the press box). He won’t be taking up $2.5 million of Boston’s cap space, as well.
Once healthy, trading Miller is the Bruins’ best option. If Boston can move him like they moved McQuaid last year, pull the trigger, Don. Sweeney worked some magic in getting Kampfer, plus two picks (one conditional), for the former Bruin who, like Miller now, was 31 years old and in the final year of a deal that Boston wished to erase from the books. The fact McQuaid was also coming off a season where he played in less than 40 games, made it all the more incredible.
Bruin fans are an emotional lot when it comes to their blue-collar heroes and, just like with Quaider, trading Miller is not what some fans will be ready to accept. No one likes to see their hero fall but, looking back, there is no doubt Boston timed the McQuaid trade perfectly, and there is little reason to believe the timing on a Miller deal would be any less ideal.
Killer has given this franchise more than it ever could have expected. Six years of nearly 18.5 minutes a night, from a D-first, college FA, is quite the coup. But the Bruins need to act while he still has some semblance of value. There is little chance he has a full-time, NHL role, anywhere next year and it would appear that he already doesn’t have one in Boston now.
It’s time to move on.