As I watch the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s easy to appreciate the usual amount of dramatic hockey you see. It’s also hard to watch without thinking about it within the prism of the Sabres’ offseason.
What the Sabres do in preparation for the draft June 30 in Newark, N.J., through free agency and the rest of the summer, is utterly fascinating to ponder. If you were to forecast their still-no-name division for next season, you might pick them seventh out of the eight teams (wasn’t Detroit on a downward spiral?). That’s largely because of who might be going without knowing who’s coming. But at least things will be different in many ways other than, of course, in the general manager’s office.
It would seem the Sabres want to keep Thomas Vanek. From listening to him at the end of the season and at locker cleanout day, he wants out.
It would seem the Sabres are more set on dealing Ryan Miller. It would seem with the farewell-tour atmosphere around his 500th game that Miller is fine with that.
It stands to reason there’s a good package out there to be had for Vanek. Not so sure about Miller. Especially with the salary cap going down, teams are going to be very discerning about spending more than $6 million on a 33-year-old goalie, even if it’s only for one year.
So I really question whether a goalie-challenged team like, say, the Florida Panthers, gets involved in any Miller deal. Too bad, too, since the Sabres would love Florida’s No. 2 pick.
So how does it all fit with the playoffs? My theory is Miller’s likeliest landing point might be a team that thinks it’s close to a Cup but not getting the job done in net. Somebody in that scenario might take that one-year flyer on him.
What would clearly be Miller’s first choice? Anaheim. Jonas Hiller, who has one year left at $4.5 million, was OK against Detroit (2.46 goals-against average and .917 save percentage) but was beaten three times in overtime and a No. 2 seed that once had a 13-game home winning streak can’t go out in the first round. Viktor Fasth, who had a great rookie year, never got off the bench.
Who else might want to move on Miller? I’d peg St. Louis. While Brian Elliott had a 1.90 GAA, he lost four straight to Los Angeles and gave up a weak OT winner in Game Five. And Jaroslav Halak is clearly tiring of coach Ken Hitchcock.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last weekend on a heated argument between Hitchcock and Halak prior to Game Four against the Kings in Los Angeles. Halak was reportedly late to a team meeting and then vented at his coach about ice time when Hitchcock confronted him.
Halak didn’t play in the Blues’ final 14 games of the season or any of the playoff games in the wake of ineffectiveness and a groin injury. Both Halak and Elliott are heading into the final years of their deals as well.
There certainly are teams General Manager Darcy Regier is unlikely to consider sending Miller to. Doubt he deals Miller within the East, so forget Washington, which could use an upgrade from Braden Holtby. Same with Pittsburgh, which might have to ponder its goaltending in the wake of Marc-Andre Fleury’s meltdown on Long Island even as Tomas Vokoun carries the Pens through this round.
Montreal is a no-chancer, albeit with growing issues in net. Carey Price came up small against Ottawa (3.26 and .894) and then admitted the Montreal fishbowl has him rattled.
“That’s one thing I miss, just being anonymous,” Price said on the Habs’ locker day. “It’s tough to do that here. I don’t even go to the grocery store anymore. I hardly do anything anymore. I’m like a hobbit in a hole.”
Miller seems tired of the fishbowl life here as well. But if he doesn’t land on a team that’s already close to Cup contention, how about a currently bad outfit that could improve quickly and not be in the middle of a fan/media circus? Think about Colorado.
The Avs are about to add defenseman Seth Jones as the No. 1 pick in the draft. They have two Stanley Cups and went to the Western Conference finals six of their first seven years in Denver, so they have some idea. Now Joe Sakic is back in the fold for real, taking over hockey operations. That will help.
Whoever the Avs name as coach can build around Jones and defense. And that could include an upgrade from Semyon Varlamov and the washed-up J.S. Giguere in goal. In a big winter sports market, Miller’s 2010 Olympic run will sell. The Avs have a center in Paul Stastny the Sabres could certainly use. Hmmmm. Point to ponder.