Ryan Miller is locked up and happy to be a Buffalo Sabre for six more years. Starting in the 2009-10 season, he's going to be paid like one of the National Hockey League's elite goaltenders. And Miller says he's prepared for the work it will take to handle the responsibility.
Miller signed a five-year, $31.25 million extension Friday that will take him through the 2013-14 season and keep him off the unrestricted free agent market next summer.
"I was really happy with the way it went," Miller said by phone from East Lansing, Mich., where he was attending his brother's wedding. "There wasn't that much back and forth. They made a good offer and projected what the marketplace is now going forward with the cap. It's a fair deal for both sides. I just like the fact they showed faith in me. They want to build a team with core guys. Signing Paul Gaustad was a good move I liked a lot. I liked the fact they wanted me in that core group."
Miller played a franchise-high 76 games last season and was clearly worn down. Coach Lindy Ruff lost all faith in backup Jocelyn Thibault and Miller was forced to play 34 games in a row in the Sabres' ill-fated playoff push.
Miller led the Sabres to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and '07 but his numbers slid some last year, with a 36-27-10 record, a 2.64 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Among goalies who played at least 10 games, Miller was fourth in the NHL in January in GAA (1.97) and save percentage (.928). But in March, the fatigue set in as Miller was 21st out of 22 in GAA (3.21) and dead last in save percentage (.883).
"I consider last year as a hiccup," Miller said. "To be honest, there were a couple games I should have been better, we all could have. We think we have a lot to prove this year.
"I'll say this: If they put me in the same amount of games [as they did] last year this time, I'll be better prepared. We all want to put a better plan in place. I've approached them about that. We have to be smart about things, don't get caught [playing] 30-some games in a row."
"Most goaltenders his age aren't involved in that kind of ice time," General Manager Darcy Regier told reporters in HSBC Arena. "That was a real learning position for him and the organization. We're in a better position to support him now, both on defense and at backup [with the addition of veteran Patrick Lalime]. . . . Ryan and Lindy and [goaltending coach] Jim Corsi are going to lay out Ryan's schedule going forward to allow him both quality rest and lots of games."
Miller, who turned 28 on Thursday, will make $3.5 million this season. But when his salary jumps to $6.25 million next season, he will become the fourth-highest paid goalie in the NHL.
For the 2009-10 season, Miller will be behind only Calgary's Mikka Kiprusoff ($8 million), Vancouver's Roberto Luongo ($7.5 million), Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers ($6.875 million).
"I don't think we're paying for potential here," Regier said. "He's established himself as one of the top young goaltenders. When you're talking about conference finals, playoff wins, what he's done in the playoffs, what he's done in his career."
"Darcy and Larry Quinn approached it from a very aggressive position and I thought that was the right move for them," said Miller's agent, former NHL goalie Mike Liut. "It was a pretty clear message to Ryan right away. Ryan's desire was always to remain in Buffalo. He's built some strong ties in Buffalo, likes the [charitable] work he's doing off the ice. People there have responded to his efforts and he's very appreciative of that."
Miller's original deal expires after this season and speculation was building throughout hockey circles that he was going to play out his contract and look to strike it rich with his hometown Detroit Red Wings. Miller would have almost certainly been considered the top goalie on the unrestricted free-agent market next July.
"The fact that he signed speaks volumes," Regier said. "He has never suggested anything other than, 'I want to stay in Buffalo.' "
"Overall as an organization, I think we're really healthy," Miller said. "I think having our own [AHL] team now in Portland is big. We all came through Rochester as a group and learned how to win together. That got interrupted a little bit for our organization with what happened there by sharing a team. I think we can push through that time. Now that we have our own team, guys can develop over one system.
"This sets me up for a good career," Miller said. "I want to win games and I want to do it here."e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org