Thursday, August 25, 2016

Washington Capitals: If Players Were Presidents -- Kip Miller

Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd President of the United States.  Holding office between the non-consecutive terms served by Grover Cleveland, Harrison’s rise to the top political office in the United States should not be surprising, given his family history.  His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, served briefly as the ninth President of the United States.  His father, John Scott Harrison, was a congressman from Ohio (and the only man to be the son of and a father to an American President).  Benjamin Harrison III was Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  Benjamin Harrison IV was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  Benjamin Harrison V was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Governor of Virginia.  Benjamin Harrison (actually the eighth Harrison to take that given name) is a member of a family that has a long and storied history in Virginia and the United States.  What he does not have is an especially high ranking among American Presidents, generally in the lower third of those serving in office. 

If there is a Capital who might be recalled with a history similar to that of Benjamin Harrison, it might be a player who comes from a family of hockey tradition, who had a relative (or two) who preceded him as a member of the Capitals, but who might not have had the most illustrious of careers in Washington.  That Capital might be Kip Miller.

Benjamin Harrison was born, raised, and schooled in Ohio.  After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, he moved to Cincinnati to study law.  He returned to Oxford before completing his law studies and began his legal career there, joining the Republican Party shortly thereafter.  When the Civil War broke out, Harrison volunteered to assist in recruiting then took command of a company in 1862.  Promoted to colonel, he took command of the 70th Indiana Regiment.  By the end of the war he had been promoted to brigadier general.

After the war, Harrison involved himself more deeply in Indiana politics.  He served as reporter of the Supreme Court of Indiana and campaigned for the Republican nomination for Governor of the state.  He lost that run, but four years later accepted the party’s nomination when the original nominee left the race.  He lost the statewide race, but it positioned him to make a run for the United States Senate in an election to replace the deceased Senator Oliver Morton.  Since senators were, at the time, selected by state legislatures, and the Indiana legislature had a Democratic majority, Harrison lost in this campaign as well.  He finally won office when in 1880 a Republican majority in the state legislature picked him to serve as Senator.  After serving one term, he lost his bid for re-election as the state legislature once more changed majorities.

This was all prelude to the election of 1888.  The Republican Party convention was crowded with candidates.  Thirteen individuals won votes on the first ballot, Harrison coming in fifth.  Through six ballots, however, his vote totals rose steadily until he won the most votes on the seventh ballot but not enough to win nomination.  On the eighth ballot he finally won enough votes to defeat the five remaining challengers.

Harrison won the general election in the constitutional oddity of having lost the popular vote to Democrat Grover Cleveland by about 90,000 votes of more than 11 million cast, but winning in the Electoral College by a 233-168 margin when Cleveland’s home state Electoral College delegation of New York cast their 36 votes for Harrison.

Harrison’s presidency was largely consumed by issues that dominated the administrations of his immediate predecessors – tariffs and trade, civil service reform, currency, and expanding the Navy.  But his was a presidency of “firsts,” too.  He was the first president to have his voice preserved, originally done so on a wax cylinder.  He had electricity installed in the White House.  He was the first (and, to date, only) president from Indiana.  He signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the first such Federal act of its kind signed into law.  His administration also saw an expansion of the nation, itself.  North and South Dakota were admitted to the Union under Harrison (although as the story goes, due to a rivalry between the two new states, Harrison had the proclamation documents shuffled before he signed them so it would not be known which of the two states would be admitted first). 

He also had a “first” he was not counting on.  In 1892 he became the first president to lose office to a former President when he lost a rematch with Grover Cleveland.  He returned home to Indianapolis, serving on the Board of Trustees of Purdue University and practicing law until his death in 1901.

Kip Miller was the sixth of ten members of the Miller family to play hockey as a collegian at Michigan State University and the third of that family to play for the Capitals.  He was preceded in Washington by brothers Kelly, who played 13 seasons for the Caps, and appeared in 940 regular season and 116 postseason games with the club; and Kevin, who appeared in ten games of the 1992-1993 season with the Caps as part of a 13-year NHL career.

In his freshman year at Michigan State, Miller scored 22 goals and recorded 42 points in 45 games, good enough to get the attention of the Quebec Nordiques, who took him in the fourth round (72nd overall, right after, it turned out, another former Capital, Joe Sacco) of the 1987 Entry Draft.  Miller went on to play four years at MSU, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player in 1990, beating out former NHL defenseman Rob Blake and former Capital Joe Juneau, among others. 

Miller split time in the 1990-1991 season between the Nordiques and the Halifax Citadels in the AHL and did the same to start the 1991-1992 season.  However, in March 1992 he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Steve Maltais.  And so began quite a journey for Miller around the NHL, as well as the AHL.  Beginning with his trade to the North Stars in March 1992 and ending with the 1997-1998 season, Miller played for the North Stars, San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders (twice), and Chicago Blackhawks organizations.  He only appeared in 41 NHL games, though.  The rest of his time was spent in the IHL, playing for the Kalamazoo Wings, Kansas City Blades, Denver Grizzlies, Indianapolis Ice, Chicago Wolves, and Utah Grizzlies.  He was one of those “tweeners” who could put up big minor league numbers (200-344-544 in 434 games with those teams over the period), but could not perform well enough at the NHL level to secure a permanent spot on an NHL roster (5-12-17 in 41 games over the same period).

After that 1997-1998 season, Miller was left exposed by the New York Islanders to the waiver draft, and in early October he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins.  At the age of 29, Miller finally had a regular spot in an NHL lineup.  He played 77 games for the Penguins in that 1998-1999 season, finishing sixth on the club in both goals (19) and points (42).  His travels were not over yet, though.  The following season he was traded at mid-season to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for a ninth-round draft pick in the 2000 Entry Draft.  But then it was back to Pittsburgh as a free agent for the next season, and with it a return to intermittent play.  He played just 33 games with the Penguins in 2000-2001 before joining the New York Islanders (for the third time, it is worth noting, the only player in that team’s history to pull off that trifecta) as a free agent in 2001-2002.  There he played in just 37 games, and at age 32 it looked as if his days as a fixture in an NHL lineup might be approaching an end.

There was a team that thought it could use a player with Miller’s experience, though.  Not so much for the 400-plus games of regular season experience Miller had, but for with whom he played some of those games.  Having acquired Jaromir Jagr the previous season, the Caps signed Miller – a former teammate of Jagr’s in Pittsburgh (as was Robert Lang, also signed as a free agent by the Caps) – with the hope of juicing Jagr’s game and finding some of the scoring touch he displayed with the Penguins.  Miller did his part.  In 2002-2003 he appeared in 72 games and went 12-38-50, setting a career high in total points, while the 12 goals was topped only by the 19 he had with the Penguins in 1998-1999.

The 2003-2004 season saw the Capitals in full sell-off mode in advance of their rebuild, and although Miller was not part of that sell-off, his numbers did dip.  He finished 9-22-31, minus-10, in 66 games.  It was his last season with the Caps, and he was not able to hook up with any team until the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL signed him in December 2004.  Miller played three seasons in the AHL before ending his career after the 2006-2007 season.

Benjamin Harrison and Kip Miller come from famous families in their respective vocations.  Neither could depend on that lineage to guarantee them noteworthy careers in Washington.  That is what makes them partners in this series of presidents and Capitals.

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