As trade rumours swirl around like a tornado full of misinformation, the Leafs are at the eye of the storm and are about to get windswept by right-handed defencemen.
Any capable defenceman in the NHL that holds their stick a certain way will be linked to the Leafs. Whether they play a physical or skillful game, their name will be spread around in baseless rumours no matter what.
There is this inherent need to get these messages across and soak up all of the intrigue like a hockey transaction sponge.
One message that has been fact-checked and sourced is the Vegas Golden Knights willing to let go of their right-handed defenceman Colin Miller, after the team was knocked out of the first round by the San Jose Sharks.
— David Schoen 📰🗞🏒 (@DavidSchoenLVRJ) May 20, 2019
The 26-year-old defenceman is reportedly being shopped around for cap issues — he’s on the books for a $3.875-million cap hit for the next three years. But after the Knights signed the likes of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury to long-term high-dollar contracts, they’re looking to shed salary anywhere they can.
Perfectly in the Leafs’ price range and behind a right-handed shot, it makes sense if the Leafs were to try and acquire the services of Miller.
One other known intangible that he brings is where he played his junior hockey. Miller is from Sault Ste. Marie and played three seasons on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, including his final season in 2012-13 as the captain. Clearly there is an obvious correlation between the available blueliner and GM Kyle Dubas.
As for what is known around the league, Bob McKenzie was asked about a possible connection between Toronto and the availability of Miller on his podcast, which he replied with, “he’s eminently available”.
It is confirmed that Vegas is certainly listening in on offers — whether or not any are from Dubas is unknown.
If the Leafs are interested and do acquire him, the type of player that they will be getting for next season is an interesting one.
Under-utilized in Boston, Miller was taken in the expansion draft and has been his usual responsible self during his time in the NHL. Going from playing an average of 15:48 TOI in Boston, Miller has now increased his ice-time by almost four minutes per game to an average of 19:29 with Vegas.
In his four years, Miller had his most offence season in 2017-18, scoring 10 goals and 41 points in a full 82-game season. He’s never been known to be a massive offence contributor from the point, but rather a steady presence that won’t give up too many opportunities.
Over 65 games last season, he held an on-ice 56.01 CF% at 5v5, which topped all of Toronto’s skaters but William Nylander (56.06 CF%). Miller has always been an above-average defenceman when it comes to shot attempts, his lowest percentage season was his rookie year in Boston (2015-16), when he had a 52.23 CF% at 5v5.
One area that the Leafs blue line could surely improve on is preventing those high-danger chances and key scoring opportunities — ranking 23rd in the league when it comes to expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.61 xGA/60).
Miller’s on-ice xGA/60 last season was a minimal 2.11, among the 202 defencemen with at least 500 minutes played he had the 20th-best rate. Acquiring a defenceman that is in the top-10 per cent of blueliners when it comes to expected goals against rate would go a long way for the Leafs as a team.
But the 26-year-old defenceman isn’t just a pure stay-at-home player that prevents scoring opportunities against, he’s an active skater that can produce some offence while on the ice as well.
The difference between his expected goals for and expected goals against rates (xG/60 +/-) is among the league’s elite. At a 0.77 xG +/- per hour, Miller ranks seventh among those 202 defenceman mentioned earlier — players like Erik Karlsson, Dougie Hamilton, and teammate Shea Theodore, are the players that rank above him. The closest Toronto defenceman in his ranking is Jake Muzzin, sitting at 48th with a 0.3 xG +/-.
For a more visually-thrilling summarization of what Miller has done throughout the past three years in the NHL, his regulated and adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart demonstrates that he has been a positive player at even-strength all across the board.
While on the power play, Miller has not been the most productive point man. Even though he accumulated 12 of his 26 assists last season on the man advantage, he has a negative effect on the play. But for the Leafs having both Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and possible Travis Dermott on the power play next season, Miller would not be needed like he was for Vegas.
For the Knights, he was part of a very active and mobile blue line, but individually he had a massive impact on the play.
In complete isolation, Miller has an above-average offensive impact on scoring chances for his team, while also being one of the league’s best defenders and locking down the shot attempts way below league average.
More repetition here, but Miller is outstanding when it comes to keeping the shot attempts going for his team, rather than against. A true modern-day two-way defenceman.
The only negative aspect of his career so far is his tendency to take penalties. Through 147 games with Vegas, Miller has a total of 97 penalty minutes — leading the team in 2017-18 and having the fifth-most on Vegas last season.
This is one area that the Leafs do well in though. As a team they rarely take any infractions during the season, they had the second-least power play opportunities against last season with 204, only the Columbus Blue Jackets had less.
Another simple area that just makes acquiring Colin Miller eerily perfect.
The Sault Ste. Marie connection, his impressive defensive numbers and his perfect contract, the Leafs and Miller seem like an obvious solution to the decaying blue line for this club.
There will be an acquisition of a defenceman this offseason — it seems improbable that Dubas would allow the Leafs to head into the 2019-20 season with Rielly, Dermott, Muzzin and Rosen as a top-four for a team that should be aiming for a deep run into the playoffs. With Colin Miller on the block, it seems like just a matter of time before the Leafs (or another smart team) trade for him.
They would be getting a smart defender that also has a knack for improving his team’s offensive chances at the same time, almost an immaculate mold of what the Leafs need.
If another team acquires him for a very attainable value going to Vegas, there will no doubt be a ton of very stern tweets and mean scowls.
He seems just too perfect of a match.