The first thing to point out about the Ryan Miller dilemma is no matter what anybody thinks or wants inside or outside the Sabres organization, the puck is on his stick.
If he really, really wants to stay, I think the Sabres will get that done.
If he really, really wants out, he’s getting traded.
There will be no Daniel Briere or Chris Drury mistakes under Tim Murray. And the reality is the Sabres seem to have done pretty well on this front since July 1, 2007, the day that essentially ruined the post-lockout editions of the franchise.
Consider that Brian Campbell was turned into Tyler Ennis, Paul Gaustad into Zemgus Girgensons, and Jason Pominville into Nikita Zadorov, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett. And who knows what Thomas Vanek eventually will become via Matt Moulson?
You have to be enthusiastically wondering what can Miller do for you if you’re Murray. Goaltenders generally won’t bring back that kind of haul but maybe Miller is an exception for some desperate team. That said, one reason most teams are high in the standings and considered Stanley Cup contenders is that they’re already set in net.
If Miller wants to go somewhere for a Cup run, especially this spring, there aren’t many places for him. Minnesota and Washington wouldn’t be Cup contenders even with Miller while St. Louis, seemingly the best destination, is still waffling over Jaroslav Halak and might just go status quo.
All that said, for purposes of this space, let’s go on the assumption Miller hasn’t 100 percent ruled out a return either.
The Sabres need to take a step back from the buzzards circling over a last-place team. They’ve got holes to plug all over their roster. Why would they want to create the biggest one possible? They need to keep their franchise goaltender, lock him up for the long term and send a strong message they’re going to turn this around more quickly than most outsiders expect.
Miller has said it will take Henrik Lundqvist-like money and terms to keep him. That was seven years and $59.5 million. So if you say to Miller, “Here’s seven years and $60 million, so sign it,” you should have a deal.
You will say that’s huge money for a goalie about to turn 34 and you’re right. But with the salary cap going up and the Sabres having gobs of cap space, it’s not an issue. They’re going to have to pay somebody.
And while HarborCenter is a boon for amateur hockey, it’s not going to mean bupkus to NHL free agents. This is a last-place club in a small market. It’s going to be easiest to pay the guys who are already here, guys who have learned what this city is about and know how good a hockey town it could once again be with a winning team.
Without Miller, no outsider will have much belief in this team anytime soon. You’re only going to get the next-level free agent at best, looking for a job and/or looking for the big paycheck. And that’s how you got Ville Leino.
If Miller thinks he’s getting Lundqvist money anywhere else, I say he’s dreaming. If he wants to get Paid with a capital P, the Sabres are the only team that will do that.
(Of course, if Miller thinks he has enough money in his pockets already and will go short-term somewhere else for a shot to win, then you have to trade him too.)
Miller is the face of the franchise and who exactly is going to play goal if he’s gone? It’s become pretty apparent this season Jhonas Enroth can’t be a No. 1 guy. Hackett? Andrey Makarov? Nathan Lieuwen? Linus Ullmark? No. Or at least not yet. The Sabres would need a bridge-type veteran in net for at least a couple of years. Yawn. That will really help a rebuild.
I realize statistics show most goalies are going to drop off in the 34-35 range. And my alarm bells go off because Miller’s two best seasons have come in Olympic years, when he has the motivation to get a prime spot on Team USA. Will that disappear with a long-term contract in hand and no gold medal to chase?
Still, it’s not ridiculous to think Miller can go until he’s 40, can be an exception to the rule and be a player who can do the kind of post-35 things done by guys like Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas or Evgeni Nabokov. He’s learned to manage his rest, to manage his involvement in affairs of the team not of his doing. His focus has never been better.
Besides, if you’re going to go with a young defense, you’d better believe in who you have in net. You want the likes of Zadorov, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe to start their careers with someone who can really help them on and off the ice – and bail them out too when it’s called for.
Murray insisted last week you can’t plan to lose, that preparing a strategy to draft high in the future (Connor McDavid, anyone?) isn’t a viable way for an organization to operate. But the Sabres would certainly be in line for the wunderkind if Miller is gone. How many games will they win next year without him?
If Miller gets traded, this one really isn’t going to land on Murray’s head. Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan have gone on record multiple times saying Miller is their guy. I’m sure Murray just wants to hear Miller say he’s in too.
Extend Miller the offer. If he turns it down, it’s on him. Only then do you make the deal.