It was the hot rumor for months, but former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall pulled the plug on trade talks for Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller before the March 3 NHL trade deadline. Hextall didn’t like the price tag and reportedly squashed further conversations.
Hextall is no longer the GM, and the Penguins’ situation has surely changed. They missed the playoffs, and stale might be a kind adjective to describe the team. Vancouver’s situation has also changed.
Should new Penguins president of hockey operations and interim GM Kyle Dubas revisit that pursuit for the high-scoring forward who can be a top-six winger or center?
Just 12 months ago, Miller finished a 99-point season. In poker terms, he drew an Ace on the river and held all of the cards in contract negotiations. This season, he “slumped” to 82 points in 81 games, including a second consecutive 32-goal campaign.
However, the world has changed drastically since Miller signed his seven-year, $56 million contract last September. The Canucks are, to be kind, trying to figure out what comes next. They’re fighting through the disarray of last season, which was marred by president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford leaving coach Bruce Boudreau dangling in the wind for weeks before hiring Rick Tocchet.
Miller, 30, als0 reportedly clashed with some in the locker room by expressing his frustrations and holding teammates accountable for the lost Canucks season.
While his no-movement clause kicks in on July 1, over the past year, more than one source has confirmed Miller would certainly not stand in the way of coming home to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
However, we should also note that sources have indicated that Miller is not being dangled as trade bait as he was last season.
The price tag in February was two No. 1 picks and a prospect.
Hextall was wise to walk.
However, Vancouver is staring down the barrel of a tight salary cap, a losing team, and a buyout of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which will eat millions per season for the next eight years. Factor Miller’s irritation with the slumping Canucks, and new coach Rick Tocchet molding a team, and perhaps Vancouver GM Patrik Allvin will take an opportunity to lighten his payroll and take less.
And beginning next weekend, Miller can block a trade, which further lessens his value by decreasing the potential trade pool.
No one else stepped up to meet Miller’s price tag, which puts Vancouver in a spot. Allvin can lower his ask or simply keep him.
Pittsburgh Penguins Perspective:
On the Penguins’ side, it comes down to how much value they see in the 14th pick. Any Penguins trade for Miller would almost certainly include it.
Is Nate Danielson going to be the next Jordan Staal? Will Zach Benson be the next Mitch Marner? Will Gabe Perreault be the next … Jake Guentzel?
All or none of those players could be available to the Penguins at no. 14 one week from today.
But what would a high-scoring center or LW mean for the Penguins in the near future? For the next five or six years, they have an all-star caliber player and one who could quickly shift to the middle without a loss in production should Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin be injured.
A Malkin/Crosby insurance policy that can score at the same rate as the star centers would be a pretty valuable commodity. It would also quickly replace Jason Zucker without a huge shift in salary cap resource allocation (in other words, they could afford it with a little penny-pinching elsewhere).
The benefits would be hard to ignore, but the cost would be tough to swallow. Revisiting the Miller discussions might be the ultimate crossroad between choosing to win now and restocking the organizational pipeline with youth and talent.
If Vancouver isn’t more reasonable … no, walk away again.
Of course, Dubas still has a week to maneuver around the NHL trade market, pick up extra picks, perhaps slide down in the draft, add even more draft capital, and ultimately lessen the blow of an acquisition like Miller.
Like everything else, it comes down to price. If Vancouver is more reasonable, and the Penguins don’t foresee the guys who will be available at No. 14 to be top-six impact players, then … yes, it makes perfect sense to put that pick on the table and go for it.