Ryan Miller knows how it looked. Amid trade talk and bitter encounters with fans last spring, the Sabres’ goaltender put his house up for sale.
Miller’s breakup with Buffalo appeared final, and he seemed determined not to let the door hit him on the way out.
“The way it all kind of worked out, it does look like it’s just, ‘OK, I’m outta here,’ ” Miller said Wednesday.
But in the four-plus months since Miller waved goodbye to Western New York, an interesting thing happened. Nothing.
The Sabres kept him, unable to orchestrate a trade suitable to their liking, so Miller is back in town for training camp. He’s been saying hello to the same people who watched him bid farewell.
“A lot of people have been happy to have me back. I feel the same way,” Miller said in First Niagara Center. “I have a great connection with the city, and I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’m just looking forward to getting started and do it all over again.”
Before unpacking his pads, Miller had to find a place to live. He’s renting downtown after selling his Elmwood Village townhouse for a hefty profit. He insists that plan was hatched long before the trade rumors started.
“The sale of the place, that played out a little differently than I thought it would,” Miller said. “People are either going to believe this or they’re not, but I’ve watched a lot of guys in this town sit on a residence that they’ve had after they’ve left town for a couple years. After I got married, I decided at a certain point that house wasn’t going to be good enough for a family at a certain point. I identified a time I was going to sell it, and it was going to be in the last year of my deal so I didn’t get stuck with it.
“I thought it was a smart business decision to at least have it on the market in the last year of my deal so I didn’t get lowballed. People, they know you’re out of town, they know they can lowball you. That was my thinking. Then the way it played out, of course, I just had to laugh to myself and say this is not going to be looking good to the people of Buffalo.”
Miller knows an improved team would look good to Buffalonians. Missing the playoffs in four of the last six seasons has taken a toll on fans, with Miller often feeling the brunt of their anger.
“They’re losing a little bit of patience,” he said, “but I think that you start to see a situation here where you can build something good and you can build something that’s going to last. That’s what I want to be a part of whether this is the last season that I can make a difference or it’s going to continue forward.
“I just want to make sure I’m a positive influence on this team moving forward and that Buffalo has a lot of success or a foundation to build success on in the future because I do care about this area and the people. I do believe they deserve to be cheering about a team deep into June. My hope is we can do that this year.”
Miller’s play, for however long he remains, will go a long way toward determining the placement of the long-shot Sabres. The 33-year-old wants to prove he can still lead a team, which in turn would put him in line to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.
“I think I can play at a high level, so I just have to start off with that kind of mind-set and then let everything kind of take care of itself,” Miller said. “I come into a season with a plan, and it’s how well you stick to it. Right now it’s just getting all the little things done so you can slip into the season and feel good.”
Miller apparently will remain in Buffalo through the start of the regular season. General Manager Darcy Regier says the trade window is closed throughout the NHL, so Thomas Vanek and Miller should be wearing Blue and Gold when the puck drops Oct. 2.
“The season begins and talks start again,” Regier said. “We’re approaching it from the standpoint of Ryan’s here, Thomas is here, they’re both in the last year of their deals like a lot of other players in the National Hockey League, and they’re ready to go to work.”
Miller is also ready for incessant trade speculation. Neither he nor Vanek wants an extension at the moment, instead opting to see how the Sabres perform before deciding their free agent fate. The trade talk could continue for a while since deals for goaltenders are uncommon, especially during the season, and not many teams have room for a $6.25 million player.
“If you play long enough, you’re going to have this kind of discussion surround you at some point,” Miller said. “I have to be professional enough to just do the job. I’m able to do a job in a city I’m familiar with and a city I’m pretty much at home. I feel like I’m in a good place.
“I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish, and a lot of it revolves around me playing good hockey. That’s always the case every year. I’m just trying to approach it that way. It’s another year to play NHL hockey, and that’s a good thing.”