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One More Piece of the Puzzle

Monday, 09.07.2007 / 4:15 PM / Features
Vancouver Canucks
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One More Piece of the Puzzle
It’s the kind of move that leaves rival GM’s gazing blankly into their cereal bowl.

It is, some might say, like slapping a chunk of fois gras on a hamburger: gratuitous and oh-so-good.

In what must be considered the last piece of the blue line puzzle in Vancouver, general manager Dave Nonis announced Monday that the Canucks have signed veteran free-agent defenseman Aaron Miller.

“We’ve basically solidified our back end and goaltending situation for the foreseeable future,” said Nonis, who only hours earlier announced that defenceman Kevin Bieksa had signed a new three-year contract with the Canucks.

Miller, a 35-year-old Buffalo, New York-native joins a Canucks blue line so laden with talent it might actually sag in the middle if they all stood on it at once.

“The way our team is put together, and the way that most teams that are competitive are put together, is from the net out.”

“We think we have one of the strongest defensive corps possible… and having any chance of being competitive in this league is going to take good goaltending and good defense, and that’s what we’ve looked to shore up.”

At 6-foot-4, 200-pounds, Miller adds toughness and experience to Vancouver's back end. The 11-year veteran has spent the past six seasons in Los Angeles where he scored six goals and 47 points.

Though he lacks the offensive punch of a Kevin Bieksa or Sami Salo, Miller more than makes up for it in defensive prowess, which is why US Olympic general manager Craig Patrick sought him out for the silver-medal-winning team in Salt Lake.

Miller is known league-wide as a tenacious rear guard who relies on strong positioning and sound decision-making. He’s also extremely adept at clearing the front of his net – a talent that’ll surely win him points with Canucks fans.

"He is a presence, there is no question about it," said Canucks assistant general manager Steve Tambellini. "Aaron’s reputation is well-earned. He’s an intelligent defenceman, but one that also competes hard every night. In this division and this conference, obviously looking at our make-up right now, we’re really excited about our top six. We worked hard to establish this group and we’re pretty excited."

According to scouts, Miller “consistently displays the attitude of a winner,” which certainly didn’t hurt his stock in the eyes of Nonis, who has made a personal mission of packing the Canucks dressing room with as much character as he can stuff under the salary cap.

With a top-four consisting of Salo, Bieksa, Mattias Ohlund, and Willie Mitchell, Miller's potential partner for the upcoming season remains unclear, though head coach Alain Vigneault has certainly faced more unpalatable choices.

Throw in rising stars Alex Edler and Luc Bourdon, and the Canucks have an embarrassement of riches. The only question is: How do you divvy up the ice time?

“I have yet to see a team in the league that gets through a year with six defenseman,” said Nonis. “You need seven and eight to play. All the defence that come to camp have to come with the mindset that they have to make the team.”

With Miller on board, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Vancouver now boasts the premier defensive corps in the league. Throw Vezina Trophy runner-up Roberto Luongo in net, and the Canucks present a codeine-sized headache for Northwest opponents.

FAST FACTS

After being drafted by the New York Rangers with the 88th pick in 1989, Miller opted to first attend college at the University of Vermont, where he enjoyed an outstanding four-year career and graduated with a degree in business… Miller was traded to the L.A. Kings from the Colorado Avalanche in February of 2001, after which the Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup… In his first season he led all NHL rookies with a +15 plus/minus rating… An amusement park aficianado, Miller’s entry on Wikipedia says he deploys a dizzying array of defensive moves named after landmark US rollercoasters such as "The Magnum 2000" and "The Comet."

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