When looking at each team’s protected list for the expansion drafts a lot of decisions stood out to me as inexplicable and one of those decisions was the Boston Bruins protecting Kevan Miller over Colin Miller.
In Kevan you have a 29-year-old defender with virtually zero offensive upside, who doesn’t drive play and who makes $2.5 million for the next three seasons. I mean, his hockeydb page dates back to the 2007-08 season and his highest goal total is five, which was during the 2015-16 season.
In Colin you have a (soon to be) 25-year-old defender who has scored at a good rate at both the major junior (shouts Sault Ste. Marie) and AHL level, plays on your second powerplay unit, has the best relative shot differential numbers on the team and only makes $1 million next season. After that he’s an RFA with no leverage, so you’re still likely going to get him on a cheaper deal (and with less term if you’d like) than Kevan after that.
Although Colin’s counting stats over his 103 career NHL regular season games don’t jump off the page at you, his shot metrics do. Over the past two seasons, Miller’s first two in the NHL, nine defenders have played at least 500 minutes at 5v5. During that time, Miller leads Bruins defenders in suppressing shot attempts against per hour relative to when he is off the ice and is second, behind only Krug, in creating shot attempts for relative to when he is off the ice. Still, he hasn’t been given the ice-time he seems to have earned. During the 2016-17 season, Miller averaged 15:48 minutes of ice-time per game, an entire second more per game than in ’15-16! He’s on pace for 15:49 next year unless they decide they gave him way too much last year and want to bring him back to where he was at the previous season. Sarcasm aside, he was given the least amount of ice-time per game among the Bruins’ relatively weak defence group last year and the only one who averaged less the year before was Joe Morrow, who only played in 17 games. That’s including the powerplay time he receives. Despite clearly not being trusted by former head coach Claude Julien and Bruins’ new bench boss Bruce Cassidy, he seems to be thriving when given the opportunity and it’s showing up in the goal differential department.
Remember that in the shots-for department (AKA Corsi for AKA CF) the higher the better and in the shots against department (AKA Corsi against AKA CA) the lower the better. What really stands out to me is that Miller leads the Bruins in suppressing shots against by a mile, yet he’s utilized as an offensive specialist, playing limited 5v5 minutes, no shorthanded time and playing on the powerplay. That got me wondering how he was utilized during his 5v5 minutes and, as it turns out, the dude has virtually never seen a defensive zone draw. Well, except that one time.
Maybe that explains why the coaches don’t trust him in the defensive zone. All jokes aside, he has been extremely sheltered. Like, one of the most sheltered defenders in the NHL.
Miller wasn’t even trusted to start a shift with a neutral zone faceoff, forget defensive zone. There are only seven defenders who have played at least 20 games over the past two seasons who have a lower defensive zone faceoff percentage, the one notable one being Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers. So, is Miller an elite defensive defenceman as his shot suppression numbers imply? Probably not. Is he a total liability in the defensive zone like his coaches seem to believe? Probably not. Has he earned a chance to prove what he can do in a larger role? Definitely.
So, why on Earth am I talking about Colin Miller on a Leafs blog right now? Because I think there could be a fit with the Leafs. Miller is likely going to be taken in the expansion draft, or at least he should be, but there are a lot of good defencemen available for Vegas to potentially take. That being the case, Miller could end up in the same situation he’s in right now with the Bruins, or he could even end up in the pressbox, which would be a shame. If that’s the case, it would be best for both parties if Vegas flipped him for assets after selecting him. Seeing as he hasn’t been given much of an opportunity up to this point in his career, he probably wouldn’t be particularly expensive to trade for. He may not be the sexiest name out there in terms of RHD people have been discussing potentially coming to the Leafs, but if they can’t get their hands on a Josh Manson or a Mark Psyk, why not give Miller his opportunity to prove what he can do? As I said earlier, he’s only got one year left on his contract at a bargain price of $1 million, so there isn’t much to lose as long as you don’t have to give up too much in a trade. I could get on board with starting next year with the defence pairings looking like this:
A lot of people might disagree with me on this due to all the talk being of getting a top pairing RHD this summer, and that would definitely be ideal, but I think they could do a lot worse than this.
Miller might not be at the top of everyone’s wishlist, but he could be a low cost, high value buy.
*data via puckalytics.com and NHL.com