By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I want to start this by asking a simple question: Would you have parted with a Top-90 pick to have steered the Vegas Golden Knights away from selecting then-Bruins defenseman Colin Miller in last June’s expansion draft?
Well, before you answer, let’s remember that you’re making this call in June 2017. Not right now, or after Miller put up 41 points as the Knights’ top-scoring blue-line threat in the regular season and (obviously) scored the opening goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, but in June of last season. And also remember that the Bruins did not have a third-round pick last year thanks to the impossible-to-forget-because-it’s-so-bad Zac Rinaldo trade. So, would you have parted with a Top-60 pick to convince Vegas general manager George McPhee to draft somebody besides the smooth-skating defender?
If you’re being honest with yourself, that is an obvious no.
And why we should have no time for another revisionist history tale of another departed Bruin finding success elsewhere.
Now, I’ll entertain the idea that it wasn’t that cut and dry.
Maybe you wanted to couple this with sending the Golden Knights a bad and/or immovable contract, such as the Matt Beleskey contract the Bruins are currently on the hook for (at its $1.9 million half-price mark as a result of the B’s deadline deal with the Rangers) for another two seasons. The blueprint for such a deal came with what the Blue Jackets sent to Vegas; to prevent Vegas from selecting defenseman David Savard, budding power forward Josh Anderson, or backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (and to get out from under David Clarkson’s contract), Columbus sent a 2017 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick, and Clarkson’s contract to Las Vegas. With those aforementioned options off the board via a gentleman’s agreement, the Golden Knights instead selected William Karlsson, a player that’s now scored 50 goals and totaled 92 points through 98 games of his first season out with the Golden Knights. Korpisalo put up a sub-.900 save percentage, Karlsson had more goals than Anderson had points, and Savard failed to hit 20 points for the first time in four years. Unreal.
Or maybe Bruins general manager Don Sweeney could have said, “Listen, you can take Miller, but can you also send us a fourth-round pick to take Beleskey or perhaps Jimmy Hayes or Adam McQuaid’s contract off our hands?” The Panthers did this when they left Jonathan Marchessault unprotected for the Knights and then received a fourth-round pick in a trade that sent Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights with him. That duo tallied a combined 49 goals and 135 points as LV’s top-line wingers (between Karlsson, ironically enough) on what may honestly be the NHL’s best line this season. Just ridiculous.
In both cases, those teams would have been better just letting the Knights take that singular piece. And given their (rotten) luck, I’m sure that Ryan Spooner or somebody else would have played the role of Karlsson or Smith had the Bruins worked out an ‘extra protection’ trade. It happened to countless teams — the Ducks lost Shea Theodore to protect other players and the Wild lost first-rounder Alex Tuch to preserve their loaded defense corps — so why would the B’s be an exception?
You’re one team in a league filled with teams burnt by unparalleled first-year success from the league’s 31st franchise.
You could even make the case that the Black and Gold got off easy compared to some of the other teams we’ve mentioned.
Perhaps you’re not in the business of any help-us-out kind of trade on the part of the Bruins, though, and believe that the Bruins simply should have made Colin Miller the B’s third protected d-man behind Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.
But it was very obvious that that was never really on the table for the Black and Gold by the end of the 2016-17 season.
The Bruins made it very clear to their three defensemen — McQuaid, Colin Miller, and Kevan Miller — that it was a year-long tryout for that third and final protection spot. And a Miller defenseman emerged from that group, too, but it wasn’t Colin. Playing both the left and right side, Kevan Miller delivered some big-minute performances (especially in the postseason), and proved that he was capable of changing with the game, as his skills and skating game dramatically improved season to season. Miller, for what it’s worth, also checked off more boxes as a ‘finished product’ for a B’s organization that is more win-now than they are developmental (especially in regards to how they viewed themselves after the 2016-17 season).
But the final nail in Colin Miller’s Boston coffin actually came when Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien.
Miller posted three goals, eight points, and averaged 16:27 in 39 games under Julien, but contributed just three goals and five points and 14:41 per night in 22 games under Cassidy. It was the opposite of what everybody expected to happen, too, as the player-friendly Cassidy was the coach that openly embraced seeing some skill and risk-taking from his defensemen versus the dump-it-in, keep-it-simple mentality that Julien had allegedly drilled into his blue-line talents, especially offensive ones.
The Bruins also knew that they had a full year of 2017 postseason surprise Charlie McAvoy coming in to bolster the right side of their defense corps, and that Krug and Matt Grzelcyk weren’t going anywhere, meaning that Colin Miller had more redundant bodies in his place than say Kevan Miller, who had just one with McQuaid still on the roster.
This is not to say that the Bruins didn’t think that they had something with Colin Miller. They saw promising glimpses that would come with his strong first pass, 2018-friendly skating game, and absolute cannon of a shot (when it landed on net). Miller also posted quality advanced metrics in his final season with the Bruins, with the top Corsi-For and Goals-For percentage among Boston defenders, despite a three-point drop from 16 to 13 in his second and final year with the B’s.
But it was never as consistent as it needed to be for the Bruins to know that Miller was a must-protect on an 11-player list. Some of that comes back to the coaching staff and their deployment, sure, but some of that also comes back to the player.
And for what it’s worth, the Bruins knew they were losing Colin Miller. Once he was left unprotected, the entire organization resigned themselves to the idea that he was going to be one that Vegas selected. (McQuaid coming out and essentially saying that he didn’t want to go to Vegas didn’t help.) But it didn’t force them into a side deal to keep in town. That was telling in regards to how they viewed the highly-affordable Miller and his potential fit within the B’s structure moving forward.
Now, we can hem and haw over some Boston missteps with players. We can do that with some others players in this series, too, from right-side wingers Reilly Smith (traded to Florida for Jimmy Hayes and cap space necessary to sign Beleskey) to Brett Connolly (not offered a contract 16 months after the B’s gave up two second-round picks to acquire him) or even Vegas goaltender Malcolm Subban, who was lost via waivers for nothing five years after being selected in the first round.
But doing it with Miller, a player that failed to separate himself from the pack in a two-year run where almost everybody underwhelmed, and with the right-side of the B’s defense looking more than fine even with his departure? I’ll pass.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.