Ryan Miller’s career is quite the juggling act these days.
He’s still got work to do with the Buffalo Sabres, including tonight’s start in goal when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to First Niagara Center. He’s got a long travel grind ahead this weekend to Sochi for the start of next week’s Olympic hockey tournament, and there’s no verdict whether Miller or Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick will be the starter for Team USA.
And he’s still dealing with the elephant in the room: With a trade prior to the Olympic break looking unlikely, what is going to happen to Miller when the Games are over? Does he stay or does he go?
If the Sabres trade Miller as soon as the Olympic roster freeze ends, that would make tonight’s game his last at home in the Blue and Gold. The Sabres also have three more home games after the Olympics and before the March 5 trade deadline.
“I still don’t know what to say. There’s been a change here even since there was a change here before,” Miller noted after practice Tuesday, referring to the hiring of new general manager Tim Murray in the wake of the November firing of GM Darcy Regier. “So it’s like I’m waiting to see what the plan is and waiting to see what they have to offer.
“We haven’t talked about anything with regard to contracts and we haven’t talked about anything with regard to trades. They’re doing their business.”
Miller has a no-trade clause where he can indicate eight teams to which he won’t accept a trade. That leaves 21 other possibilities. He said the Sabres have had his list for several months and it has not been revisited.
“Ryan is a Buffalo Sabre today,” said interim coach Ted Nolan. “We’re very thankful he’s here and that’s all I’m concentrating on is him being here and starting” against Pittsburgh.
Miller said “anything is possible” when pondering if this might be his last game in Buffalo. But asked point-blank by The Buffalo News if he’s told the Sabres he wants out – or told them he’s all-in to talk about a contract extension – Miller remained elusive.
“That’s not really something I want to discuss with you guys,” he said. “It’s a private conversation about a business transaction. Really, that’s what it comes down to. I’m waiting to see kind of what the plans are around here. That would kind of give a little more indication.
“They can’t execute anything they might be planning until some time passes, where they make some trades or they have some kind of indication what’s going to happen. Even then, there’s no guarantee they’re going to get everything they want. It’s just kind of we’ll wait and see.”
Similarly, Miller is in a holding pattern to find out if he’s keeping the starting nod at the Olympics he had in leading Team USA to a silver medal four years ago in Vancouver. He gets one final shot tonight to impress Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, who will be directing Team USA.
Miller said he last spoke to Bylsma about 10 days ago to get instructions to access a specialty website Team USA is using for video about play on big ice, including last year’s World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.
The chatter is that Bylsma is splitting the workload for his two goalies over the opening pair of games, Feb. 13 vs. Slovakia and Feb. 15 against Russia. Then he may turn to the hot hand.
“He hasn’t said anything,” Miller said. “It’s just speculation.”
Bylsma continues to not tip his hand.
“I rushed home last night to turn on the TV and while I watched the tape of our game again, I watched LA on the TV against Chicago,” Bylsma told reporters Tuesday in Pittsburgh. “And I’ve taken the opportunity to watch Ryan his last three games and watch him play. Not just the game in here, where he played really well against us in the loss.
“That’s the one position that I am continuing to watch clips on and video of the USA guys. I’m watching them both and I’ll get to see Ryan live tomorrow.”
Miller stopped 31 of 33 shots last week in the Sabres’ 3-0 loss to the Penguins in Consol Energy Center, with the third goal going into an empty net. He stopped 38 of 40 in Thursday’s 3-2 win at Phoenix but was pulled Saturday in Denver after giving up five goals on 27 shots in the first two periods.
“I’ve got to perform at a high level,” said Miller, who has been wearing his specially painted Olympic mask in practice. “It’s always how you perform and I felt like I played a decent game in their building last time and I just want to show I can be consistent and do it. Plus this is a game I need to bounce back. I was on the bench the last game and that’s not very fun.”
Miller said his 2010 experience should help him but doesn’t necessarily give him a leg up on Quick either.
“I think it’s like law firms. It doesn’t guarantee any future payouts or verdicts,” Miller said. “It is what it is. It’s an experience that I will always cherish but I can’t stack it in the net behind me. It’s not going to deflect pucks away. I have to be a more veteran and evolved goaltender going in this time.”
Off the ice, Miller said he’s confident Olympic officials will keep athletes and their families safe at the Games. And he’s not going to worry about issues on this side of the world until he returns, hopefully with a gold medal in tow.
“You take care of everything here for two weeks so you don’t have to worry about things going on,” Miller said. “My mom and my sister are going to watch the dog and my wife and my dad are coming with me. Pretty much the rest of the world is going to be shut off for a while.”