By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
For what it’s worth, however, Miller himself isn’t ready to call it quits.
Putting himself through multiple surgeries on his battered knee, with the most recent one coming back in March, Miller remains focused on trying to get back on an NHL sheet. He’s already training for next season, and is ‘ready to go’ according to a video tweeted out by his agent earlier this week. Whether or not he actually gets back there is anybody’s guess at this point.
But should the Bruins be the ones to give Miller such an opportunity in 2020?
Better yet, are the Bruins considering the possibility?
“I haven’t explored whether that’s with us until this point,” B’s general manager Don Sweeney said earlier this month. “We’ve engaged where his health is at both mentally and physically in the upcoming days and weeks and in the upcoming days and weeks we will reach out and find out where he is at and where he fits in.”
Fit is the biggest thing next to health, too.
The Bruins do have uncertainty on their backend with the pending free agency of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, yes. It’s feeling like Krug is a goner for a deserved payday that comes with long-term security, and while the 43-year-old Chara wants to return for a 15th season with the Bruins, it’s unclear where the sides are right now. But the Bruins are relatively set on the right side, with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo as the side’s one-two, right-side punch, and with Connor Clifton’s three-year extension at $1 million per year set to kick in next season. There’s also Jeremy Lauzon who, though a left-shot defender, played the majority of his 2019-20 campaign with the Bruins on the right side. That’s four right there. Depth defenseman John Moore makes it five, and the Bruins will work out a new deal with restricted free agent Matt Grzelcyk this summer.
It’s an already-crowded group (especially when it comes to third-pairing presences), and that’s without Chara and/or Krug returning, and without a Providence body jumping into the mix. Also worth noting that 2015 first-round pick Jakub Zboril needs to make the team out of training camp next year or he’ll hit the waiver wire.
It’s impossible to imagine the Bruins bringing Miller back without moving a contract off their backend.
Still, the Bruins aren’t closing the door on Miller given what he’s meant to their team, and what they’ve lacked in recent runs.
“We have depth and we have numbers that we have to piece together and if we have to move players out to bring [Miller] back, it’s something we have to explore,” Sweeney acknowledged. “We think the world of him, we missed him the last couple of years certainly in the playoff environment and what he brings to the table.”
When we saw Miller last, he was finishing up an injury-interrupted 2018-19 campaign that featured 73 hits and 79 blocked shots. Even with his time missed, Miller’s 73 hits were the fifth-most among Boston defenders, while the 79 blocks were the fourth-most among blue liners. In fact, going back to Bruce Cassidy’s first full season as the B’s head coach through last year, Miller ranks tops among all Boston defensemen in hits per 60 (7.06), with only Sean Kuraly, David Backes, and Noel Acciari thumping bodies on a more frequent basis, and was first in blocked shots per 60 (5.66).
That, along with the size element alluded to by Sweeney, was sorely missed when the Bruins struggled against bigger bottom-six forwards that were able to punish Boston in the d-zone and set up shop for extended zone time.
But bringing Miller back to address that potential hole is pointless if Miller remains unable to take that next step.
And that’s been the problem. While Miller’s off-ice workouts are encouraging, the Bruins have seen this before. Hell, they’ve seen Miller graduate to on-ice skating, and on numerous occasions, at Warrior Ice Arena. But for the last 17 months, those strides have yet to progress into a ramp-up of necessary contact drills, hard practices, or rehab assignments.
It’s enough to raise legitimate questions regarding the idea of re-signing Miller. If anything, it feels like the B’s best path would be to bring the 32-year-old back to training camp on a professional tryout that sees if that progress is finally there.
But no matter the move, the Bruins are going to be there rooting for Miller’s comeback.
“I have optimism that Kevan will do everything possible to be healthy in order to play,” said Sweeney. “He has the desire to continue to play. He’s had a very painful injury that is taking much longer than any of us had hoped and Kevan had hoped. But he’s worked incredibly hard and I know he’ll continue to do that to give himself the opportunity to play in the NHL again.”
Miller has spent his entire NHL career with the Bruins, recording 12 goals and 67 points, and a plus-80, in 324 career games.