2018-19 Player Review: Question marks surround Colin Miller ahead of crucial offseason for Golden Knights

What is in store for Miller?

In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

The 2017-18 season was one to remember for a number of players on the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster, including defenseman Colin Miller. Selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, the former Bruin put together the best statistical campaign of his career that season, scoring 10 goals and assisting on 31 others. Going into the 2018-19 season, many were expecting Miller to take another step forward as he entered the prime of his career. And while he did have some shining moments, it’s fair to say that his second season in Vegas didn’t quite go as expected.

Season in review

Miller is one of the more polarizing players on the Golden Knights’ roster — at least amongst a large portion of Vegas diehards. On one hand, he drives play at an exceptionally high rate. His Corsi For percentage of 56.01 ranked ninth out of 222 NHL defensemen with a minimum of 400 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season. In fact, only three blueliners (Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and, shockingly, Jon Merrill) have driven play at a higher rate since the 2017-18 season began (again, minimum of 400 minutes at 5-on-5).

On the other hand, though, many consider him a defensive liability while the accuracy of his booming slap shot (or lack thereof) has driven a fair share of Golden Knights spectators absolutely bonkers. And, believe it or not, only one player in the Knights’ two years of existence (Brayden McNabb) has taken more penalties than Miller. Incredibly, Miller’s 46 penalties since joining Vegas is nearly twice the amount taken by Ryan Reaves (24) since the Knights acquired Reaves at last year’s trade deadline.

Miller has his fair share of flaws, but one area that sets him apart is his ability to generate points on the man advantage. While playing in only 65 games this season (he missed an entire month due to injury), Miller still managed to lead all Golden Knights defensemen with 13 points on the power play. And despite playing in 14 more games and receiving 37 more minutes of ice time on the man advantage than Miller, fellow puck-moving defenseman Shea Theodore (who many consider Vegas’ best offensive blueliner) only picked up nine power-play points on the year.

Curiously, even though Miller had the edge in points on the man advantage, advanced metrics indicate that it was actually Theodore who was the true power play dynamo. Theodore reigned supreme with a 91.70 Expected Goal differential and generated far more high-danger scoring chances than Miller. Surprisingly, Miller actually had the lowest HDCF% (80.77) of any Golden Knights player that took the ice on the power play this season.

Advanced statistics notwithstanding, Miller is a proven producer on the power play. He may not be Keith Yandle, but he is more than capable of making an impact on the man advantage.

The area of Miller’s game that many would consider a weak spot is his play in the defensive zone. This is understandable, especially given his reputation as an “offensive-minded” defenseman. However, Miller was actually quite sound defensively in 2018-19. And this is mainly due to the fact that, when he was on the ice, opposing teams were busy defending rather than generating scoring chances of their own. Miller even seemed to hold his own in limited action on the penalty kill, keeping many of the high-danger areas on lockdown.

Despite the seemingly good defensive play, though, that didn’t stop Miller from being a healthy scratch in back-to-back games during the regular season and in Game 1 of the Knights’ playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. Filling in for Miller was 32-year-old Nick Holden, who the Golden Knights signed to a two-year, $4.4 million contract last summer.

Following the Knights’ loss in Game 1, Miller returned to the lineup for Game 2 and, for the most part, played well, scoring a goal to help Vegas earn a key 5-3 victory on the road.

“We want our guys to be consistent. We want to play a strong game, eliminate the mistakes, but mistakes are part of hockey,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant of Miller after Game 2. “Colin is a good player. He’ll be fine and we like him a lot.”

Standout moment

Miller’s standout moment came in his first game of Vegas’ playoff series against the Sharks. Despite taking a pair of avoidable penalties, Miller still wound up making a positive impact for the Knights by scoring a shorthanded goal early in the contest. Miller stepped out of the box during a 5-on-3 power play, intercepted a pass intended for Brent Burns, darted into the San Jose zone and beat Martin Jones to double the Vegas lead. The Knights went on to win this game 5-3.

Just a couple days after being scratched for Holden, this sort of seemed like poetic justice for Miller.

Looking ahead to 2019-20

Now comes the big question. Will Colin Miller be back in Vegas for the 2019-20 season? Given the Golden Knights’ current cap situation (they are the only team currently over the projected $83 million salary cap, per CapFriendly), it’s hard to imagine the Knights’ brass not shopping him this summer. Especially with William Karlsson, Nikita Gusev and Malcolm Subban, among others, all needing new contracts.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts column from last week, it does appear that teams are interested in Miller. But what will it take to get him?

Certainly not chump change.

How will Vegas get under the cap? The Golden Knights are already over this year’s $79.5M figure and close to the projected $83M for 2019-20. Defenseman Colin Miller fell out of favor, but teams who tried to take advantage of his healthy scratches were told the Knights aren’t interested in simply giving him away.

The Golden Knights, in theory, could get a pretty solid return for Miller. A 26-year-old right-shot defenseman on a team-friendly contract could be a nice addition to any team in need of help on the blue line. With the Knights’ situation in mind, what could they get for him? More than likely, future assets — draft picks and prospects. This would allow the Knights to move Miller without taking on a significant amount of salary in return.

In the uncertain event that Miller returns for 2019-20, he would likely continue to earn big minutes on the power play. He will never be tasked with shutting down opposing teams’ top players, but he is certainly a valuable puck-moving defenseman who could be due for a huge bounce-back year next season.

How would you grade Colin Miller’s 2018-19 performance?


Statistics courtesy of NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick.