The news broke earlier this past week that Boston Bruins’ defenseman Kevan Miller started to skate prior to team practice, a positive step in the right direction in his long road to recovery from a broken kneecap.
It is unfortunate because the Los Angeles, CA native spent the better part of last year nursing a plethora of injuries. Get ready for this laundry list of ailments: broken hand (October), fractured larynx (November), torn oblique (February), vertically-broken kneecap (April), horizontally-broken kneecap (May).
Seriously? Wow, he is such a hockey player. Yes, that is a compliment.
The fact that Miller still vows to make a comeback is nothing short of miraculous. He will continue to skate a few days a week and he will eventually don a normal practice sweater. The next big steps will be for the 31-year-old defenseman to participate in some drills and be cleared for contact. The day-by-day approach is the best thing for both Miller and the Bruins at this point.
There is no denying that Miller is a solid defenseman, plays responsible hockey, and provides the physical toughness necessary to stand up for his teammates. In a lot of ways, he is the ideal Bruin. However, fans and media are no longer conspicuous by his absences; injuries and recovery time are becoming synonymous with this player.
With the Bruins very deep on the blue line throughout the organization, it is time to ask this question: Does Boston still need Miller on the team?
It should come to the surprise of no one that Miller has yet to complete a full season in his National Hockey League career. The closest he came was back in 2015-16 when he skated in 71 games. It is not like he is a point eater, either. In his six-year NHL career, Miller has posted 12 goals and 55 assists in 324 games.
Also, a bunch of young guys have already stepped in and filled the void on the third defensive pairing quite nicely. Connor Clifton has transitioned well enough that he cracked the lineup on Opening Night just a couple weeks ago. Veteran Steven Kampfer has been a viable option as well, since he is good in a number of facets of the game and will never play bad enough that warrants him a seat on Level 9. Should John Moore count as another viable option? Sure, but he is also injured at the moment so he does not really help the cause.
If you throw in the likes of Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen waiting in the wings down in Providence, the Bruins will be okay on defense for the future.
At the same time, an argument can be made that the “now” is rather important for a team that is built to make another deep playoff run.
Miller has a career plus-80 rating, so there is no doubt that the defensive part of his game is his bread and butter. So far this season, the Bruins have struggled mightily in second and third periods. Boston is a plus-7 in goal differential in the first period through seven games. Despite the hot starts, the Bruins have gone on to post plus-1 and minus-2 ratings in second and third periods, respectfully.
Perhaps someone should remind the team that there are 60 minutes in a hockey game?
Also, the Bruins rank 20th in the league in blocked shots. When it came to blocking shots, Miller excelled. Lastly, the Bruins have been out-shot in three of the seven games played despite their 5-1-1 record.
For those reasons and the fact that the B’s will not be able to keep up with this sustained pace, a returning Miller could be huge in the short term. With that being said, the long term is a completely different story.
Although it is never good to assume things, we are going to do it anyway. If Miller suffers another catastrophic injury, one could assume that his career would be over. At the very least, his career would not be the same. To be honest, he is already skating that fine line (no pun intended) of his career not being the same.
Miller is in the final year of his four-year, $10 million contract. A buyout would not really be an option considering the minimal amount of real dollars the team would be saving. A trade would be even less likely for obvious reasons.
Both sides are just going to have to ride this one out for better or worse.
The return of a hard-nosed, stingy, lock-down player like Miller would certainly help the Bruins with their depth and would be an asset when he is on the ice. However, the B’s have gotten by without his services for long periods of time. They will be just fine without him.