Not only was J.T. Miller involved in trade talks between the Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins, but a deal may also still happen this offseason, according to one of hockey’s top insiders.
Frank Servalli, formerly of TSN and now with Daily Faceoff, revealed details of the failed trade deadline deal between the two teams on the DFO Rundown Hockey Podcast.
“Oh yeah,” Servalli said when asked if a Miller trade to Pittsburgh could still happen.
It sounds like Penguins GM Ron Hextall was willing to give up a lot to get Miller, too.
“[The Penguins] were really interested…. I think the deal they were talking about involved two first-round picks… They even got to the point where they were talking about the other pieces that they would move in order to make it happen.”
The Penguins are effectively Miller’s hometown team, given he grew up about an hour away from Pittsburgh in East Palestine, Ohio.
“I think they got as far deep between the Penguins and Canucks that the Canucks were trying to figure out where they could move Jason Zucker around trade deadline time. That’s how deep it got. No one will confirm that, but that’s what I believe was one of the pieces moving the other way to make the money work.”
Servalli’s report jives with what TSN’s Darren Dreger said in March, that the Canucks turned down “multiple draft picks” in a potential deal.
Zucker is in the last year of a contract that carries a $5.5 million cap hit. The 31-year-old has 46 points in 73 games this season.
Miller, 30, signed a seven-year, $56 million contract extension in September. The deal, which includes a full no-movement clause for the first four years of the contract, kicks in on July 1.
After a career year in 2021-22, Miller won’t match the 99 points he tallied last year, but he does have an impressive 76 points in 75 games this season, with six games left to pad his total.
While the offence never dried up, Miller struggled defensively under Bruce Boudreau this season. Viewed as a No. 1 centre by the club heading into the season, Miller was moved to the wing by Boudreau after numerous defensive gaffes.
It’s been a different story under new coach Rick Tocchet, who has Miller playing more responsibly defensively without missing a beat in the scoring department. Miller will probably never win a Selke Trophy, but he’s been a capable centre under Tocchet and has contributed to an improved penalty kill.
It remains to be seen if his improved play will change Canucks management’s mind, but Servalli doesn’t think so.
“We know they tried [to trade Miller before the trade deadline], and I still think at the end of the day the Canucks’ favoured position is to move J.T. Miller,” Seravalli said.
Miller was one of four “exceptional players” name-checked by Jim Rutherford in his letter to season ticket members last week, and he does seem to be a favourite of Tocchet’s. Canucks management has also not shown much inclination to do a slow rebuild. The team reportedly wanted to acquire a “young centre” to replace Miller before considering a trade of their star forward.
Two first-round picks won’t do much for Vancouver’s win-now philosophy that’s seemingly in play, though as the Filip Hronek deal illustrated, they could flip them for more immediate help.