Sure, it’s tempting with Ryan Miller’s stock falling after the Blues’ first-round knockout in the playoffs. The Sabres are in the early stages of a massive rebuild and are looking to develop a young team. Miller is a good goaltender. He’s a comfortable fit for Buffalo and could provide stability.
Miller appeared destined for the open market when St. Louis signed Brian Elliott to a three-year contract worth $7.5 million Monday, a reasonable deal for a goalie who will likely share the net with top prospect Jake Allen. The Blues concluded the tandem is a better option than spending considerably more for Miller.
It will be interesting to see where Miller lands. The Blues could trade his rights before the market opens, but it would mean also upgrading a third-round pick headed for Buffalo to a first-rounder. They will more likely give themselves an “A” for their effort at the trade deadline and cut their losses.
The Sabres should subscribe to a similar theory and resist the urge to bring him back to Buffalo, assuming he would be interested. They’re not going anywhere with him or without him. They would be better off breaking ties with some of the worst days in franchise history and starting over.
It’s not to say Miller wouldn’t help them next season. In fact, he would. He showed as much last season. He assisted in accelerating the development of several young players, particular their young defensemen. He covered up for many mistakes. Ultimately, he served a purpose.
At this point, though, Miller is not the answer. He would contribute to more problems than he would solve. He would interrupt the master plan and stunt the development of goalies behind him. They need to play Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth and groom Nathan Lieuwen, Linus Ullmark and Andrey Makarov.
Miller needs to decide what he wants at this stage of his career, which will determine how this whole thing shakes out. If his only goal is winning a Stanley Cup, there are teams out there, such as Minnesota or San Jose, that may be interested in signing him to a low-risk deal that carries potential for high reward.
The Wild aren’t far away from competing for a Cup. If they convince pending free agent winger Thomas Vanek to join them at a discount, which is very possible, they will be another step closer. What they’re lacking more than anything is a veteran goalie who has played in pressure situations.
San Jose has a similar problem. Anaheim could be another. Three years or fewer and $15 million or less makes sense. Paying him anywhere near the $6.25 million he made last year on a long-term deal is inviting problems.
Miller turns 34 in July and is entering the age of uncertainty for goaltenders. Tim Thomas was 37 when he won the Vezina Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup for Boston in 2011. Patrick Roy was still among the NHL’s best when he retired at 37. Martin Brodeur was still very good into his late 30s. But for every one of them, there are Olaf Kolzigs and Curtis Josephs and a long list of others who failed to age with the same grace. Unfortunately, there’s no telling, even from year to year, which goalies will remain effective once they reach their mid-30s and which ones will flame out.
Miller played better for Buffalo than he did for St. Louis, particularly in the playoffs. The Sabres were willing to sign him to a long-term deal for big money. How long and how much? I’m not sure, but it would have been more lucrative than anything he’ll be offered in free agency. His problem comes down to supply and demand. Miller has proven to be one of the best when he’s at the top of his game. You saw him evolve into an international sensation when he carried the United States into the gold medal game in 2010, the same year he took home the Vezina Trophy.
Last year, he had stretches in which he was among the better goalies in the league despite playing on a lousy team. Over the course of his career, he’s been an above-average player with flashes of greatness. He’s capable of making a difference, but the same can be said about a dozen other goalies or more.
Miller has a career 2.59 goals-against average in the regular season and a 2.49 GAA in the postseason. He has a .915 save percentage for both. Overall, he’s been solid but not spectacular. Teams will not be lining up to sign him for $6 million per season, but he’ll land somewhere.
Every year, a handful of teams need goalies. Philadelphia has turned it into a 25-year project. Washington or Nashville might work. Maybe it will be Minnesota or Anaheim. But it wouldn’t work in Buffalo. The Sabres need long-term solutions, not another player climbing aboard for all the wrong reasons.