Posted 12:29 PM ET | Comments 0
Often a topic of conversation among hockey fans here in Buffalo, along with local media, and possibly throughout the league as well, I have a few thoughts about Ryan Miller.
First off, I like Ryan Miller. For the most part I think he's done a solid job in net for the Sabres. I will do my best to detach myself as a Sabres fan and look at the realities facing this team in the coming year.
Ryan Miller statistically is an average goaltender. He falls in the middle of the pack in GAA and save percentage. However, without looking at the numbers, that can be misleading. While not always, or even often, the case, it's possible for the #1 goalie to have a .935 save percentage, and the #20 goalie to have a .925. Same for GAA. That's a difference of 1 goal in 100 shots. Hardly a huge difference. My point is that of any position, the numbers don't give nearly the whole picture in terms of a goalie's "productivity" or effectiveness. Winning percentage to me is important. Do you give your team a chance to win every night?
That being said, I think Miller is a goalie that you can win with. Maybe even win the Cup. He's not likely to steal 2 or 3 games to win a series for you. But with a team playing decent hockey in front of him he makes most of the saves he's supposed to. He will let in a "soft" goal here and there, but I don't need, nor expect him, to be perfect every night. I need him to be steady and solid. Which I think for the most part he's accomplished. There are not that many "elite" goaltenders who can consistently play great hockey with a bad team in front of them.
That has been the biggest problem this year I think. The team has not played well in front of him. Defensively the Sabres have just not played consistently well enough game to game, and even period to period. And it's shown. There have been way too many times where I've said, "I'd like to see him make that save, but how many times do they expect him to bail them out of a bad play?" Tuesday's Ottawa game is a prime example. Yes, througout the season there were saves he could have, and should have, made, and in instances could have changed the momentum of a game or kept them in a game. But overall he has been steady, and that's all I need.
So what now? What does Buffalo's front office do next? Given their track record, nothing. However, I think they realize the importance and value of a decent goaltender, and will make an offer. I'm curious to see what transpires from the Miller camp. I can only imagine what influence the NHLPA and his agent will try to impart during negotiations (ala Brian Campbell). I feel Miller not signing and looking to end up in Detroit is a very real possibility. I would hope that the Sabres at least look into what they could get in return. Goatending prospects in the organization look good; Enroth is supposedly looking great over in Sweden. My concern is timeline. Buffalo likes to let their prospects develop before jumping to the NHL. I think that strategy has worked for the most part. Miller, Vanek, Campbell, Pominville, Stafford, Paille, etc. have all had time in Rochester and Cunnyworth has done a tremendous job preparing them for the NHL. But are the Sabres prepared to incur the wrath of their fan base if they trade or let Miller go and in effect "rebuild" for a year or two? It's not looking like there will be any better options than Miller available as free agents. Just as unlikely for them to trade for a goaltender, and who's going to give up a comparable netminder? What would be the cost?
So, as objectively as I can, I think the best course of action for the Sabres is to get a deal done this offseason to extend Miller's contract. You're probably looking at $6M-$6.5M, 5-6 years. Then focus on tweaking the roster just enough to give them a spark to perform better next season. I think this team has a lot of talent, enough to have easily made the playoffs this year. I feel they badly underperformed and lacked real leadership, someone who can take control of the dressing room and get these guys to wake up and play with some fire.
The sky is not falling.