Chicago Blackhawks’ What If … A Patrick Kane-Ryan Miller Trade Happened

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 8: Ryan Miller
VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 8: Ryan Miller /

How close this was to ever happening, we’ll probably never know, but there was a time when Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was involved in trade rumors with goaltender Ryan Miller

If you’ve just recently become a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, it might shock you to hear this. But in 2012, star winger and future Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane was the subject of trade rumors involving then-Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.

It was an extremely … extreme trade rumor that burst out before the 2011-12 trade deadline. The Blackhawks were struggling for a second consecutive season, and the thought was general manager Stan Bowman might try to blow up the operation and start over.

The Blackhawks’ defense was entirely meh at this point, operating on the trio of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Corey Crawford couldn’t bail out those beleaguered three and the rest of the corps with nearly as much consistency as he can nowadays (this was Crow’s proverbial sophomore slump season), and the team was slipping from a sure playoff position.

Hockey Central is credited with first stoking the fire on some sort of Kane-Miller trade in mid-February 2012. The idea had been brought up in media/social media corners before then, but this is when it really started gaining traction.

Here’s more and more speculation on the idea of a trade that neither Bowman nor then-Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, to my knowledge, ever publicly said was even a possibility. It created one heck of a scene among the Blackhawks fandom, as rooters took sides on the issue of whether or not Chicago should trade its most talented player for a new (but older) goaltender.

Ultimately, it doesn’t seem like the trade ever came close to happening. Instead, Bowman silently bolstered his D corps with a deal for Johnny Oduya, which paid huge dividends down the road. He also stuck with Crow in net, adding to those paid dividends. And Miller stayed in Buffalo before bouncing to St. Louis and Vancouver. He’s with the Anaheim Ducks today.

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But what if Bowman and Regier had completed a trade involving Kane and Miller in 2012?

Would it have been straight up?

Before directly addressing the “what if” question, let’s first ponder the idea of the trade itself, and how it would have gone down, had it occurred.

It was easy for pundits and outlets to suggest a straight up Kane-for-Miller deal, because that isn’t even remotely complicated. It’s a player for a player — no additional players, no draft picks, no minor leaguers, no cash on the side.

But so few NHL deals are that simple. And a deal involving a Stanley Cup champion and Olympic silver medalist forward and a former Vezina Trophy and Olympic silver medalist winning goaltender could not be that easy, could it?

While Miller had been a stalwart in Buffalo since a couple seasons the Sabres drafted him in 1999, Kane was a cornerstone for these Blackhawks, along with Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks had been built around Kane and Toews. Heck, Kane had the goal that officially ended the team’s 49-year championship drought in 2010.

So a straight-up trade, Kane for Miller, was probably unlikely to begin with, despite the two having a very similar cap hit and contract situation at the time. But that doesn’t mean a trade couldn’t have been worked out.

It would’ve been interesting to see which side would’ve had to give up more. The Blackhawks were in more of a playoff fight than the Sabres (though Buffalo finished just three points from the East’s eighth spot). Chicago would’ve been giving up a franchise player, while Buffalo would’ve been dealing a franchise player and its starting netminder, the latter not so easily replaced.

This could have wound up becoming an absolute whopper of a deal. Could the Blackhawks have considered tossing Crow — 28 years old at the time, versus Miller’s 31 years — into the deal in exchange for a big-name forward, like Sabres captain and leading scorer Jason Pominville, or Thomas Vanek? Perhaps a veteran defenseman like Christian Ehrhoff or a promising young blueliner like Tyler Myers would’ve been involved. And what of draft picks?

The logistics of such a trade being done are mind boggling if you believe a one-for-one deal wasn’t going to work. But let’s go ahead and stick in bizarro world, where a deal that sends Kane (and only Kane) to Buffalo for Miller (and only Miller) had happened. What would the future hold?

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  • What if Kane had been traded for Miller?

    Well, we would’ve had something super interesting to talk about during a rough stretch of the 2011-12 season (you could argue the whole thing was a rough stretch). But let’s dig a little deeper.

    Kane was having a rough season heading toward the 2012 trade deadline, tallying 12 goals in his first 56 games. He wound up with 23 goals and 66 points in the regular season, now his second-lowest career non-lockout total.

    But let’s consider what he’s done on the ice since. Seasons of 55 (lockout), 69, 64, 106 and 89 points. Seventy-five points across six postseasons (including 2012). Wins of the Conn Smythe, Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies/awards. Two more Stanley Cup wins.

    Yeah, giving that up would have been a dagger to Chicago’s hopes of becoming any sort of salary cap dynasty, whether or not you consider the Blackhawks such a thing. The second line that was dragging the Blackhawks through multiple seasons probably doesn’t do that anymore. You’re looking at a team that could have missed the playoffs in a few recent seasons without Kane.

    Meanwhile, the Blackhawks would have had Miller at goaltender. He was coming off the high of a Vezina-winning campaign in 2009-10, when he posted a career-best 41 wins, a .929/2.22 slashline and a great 16.8 goalie points share. He wound up 31-21-7 in Buffalo during the 2011-12 campaign, but that wasn’t a terribly good Sabres team. Miller still looked to be at least close to his prime.

    Miller started to struggle after that, though. He played in front of a few more bad Buffalo teams, but he wasn’t standing on his head by any means. He was an equal part of the problem, seeing his save percentage hover around .916 for the rest of his time in Buffalo.

    Now, immediately, this would have been an upgrade for Chicago over how Crow was playing. The future multi-time Cup winner would finish the 2011-12 regular season with a dismal .903/2.72 slashline. So Miller conceivably could have boosted Chicago’s back end for a playoff push.

    But the team ultimately would have sacrificed a large part of its future to try and win it all in 2012 — and I’ll argue that Blackhawks outfit would not have been good enough to take home the Cup, with or without Miller.

    So then you potentially lose out on Crow coming into his own and dragging the Blackhawks through parts of a few seasons and postseasons, depending on how he’s utilized moving forward. Unless Miller’s game went from solid to zero in a heartbeat, he was going to be Chicago’s No. 1 guy for as long as the salary cap allowed, so Crow would have taken a major back seat.

    This could have meant major things for the Blackhawks teams that won the Cup in 2013 and 2015, and the one that was probably a Western Conference finals win away from the Cup in 2014. Would a Kane-for-Miller deal really have made the Blackhawks better over the longer term? I say no.

    Of course, you could look at the salary cap situation and see some potential positives. Kane’s $10.5 million AAV deal is avoided with this trade. Miller was never going to make that much, so the Blackhawks could have stocked up once more with that extra cap space. But they never would have been as good without Kane as they have been with him.

    Next: Ex-Blackhawk Panarin Not A One-Trick Pony

    So, we can be glad pundits and social media lovers aren’t in charge of the Blackhawks, because they really would’ve screwed things up for Chicago’s hockey team beyond 2012 if a Kane-Miller deal went through.