Just as he has been his entire career, Ryan Miller was straightforward with a small group of reporters Friday afternoon in First Niagara Center.
Miller said he appreciates the words of Ted Nolan, likes some early give-and-take he’s had with Pat LaFontaine and still feels good about his game even in the face of his team’s terrible record.
Everyone knows Miller is a student of the game, both the on-ice side and the business side. And hockey as a business is a big part of Miller’s story this year, with his bid for the U.S. Olympic team coming as he’s heading into unrestricted free agency.
Miller took keen notice of the seven-year, $59.5 million contract Henrik Lundqvist signed with the New York Rangers on Wednesday. And he made it sound like if the Sabres have any interest in keeping him, that’s the ballpark they have to be talking about.
“I thought it was actually lower than he was probably going for,” a smiling Miller said when asked about the Lundqvist deal. “I think he got a good term, good money and with the salary cap going where it’s going, I think he sets the standards.”
Nearly $60 million for a goaltender used to make teams blanch. Not anymore. Boston’s Tuukka Rask, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick all got big bucks the last two years, and the NHL’s influx of money from its new Canadian television deal that starts next year only figures to bloat the salary cap past $70 million.
“I anticipate with the TV deals and such, it’s going to keep going up,” Miller said of the cap, before returning to a chilling Lundqvist point. “Maybe that will seem like a pretty average price down the line.”
Miller is likely to start for the Sabres tonight against the Montreal Canadiens in Bell Centre. It’s interesting to note both he and Lundqivst have pretty similar stats.
Both have played 21 games this season, with Lundqvist posting a 9-11 record while Miller is 5-16.
Miller entered Friday’s games second in the NHL in saves (700) and third in shots against (763) and had somehow managed a .917 save percentage in spite of a 3.05 goals-against average. Lundqvist was at 2.43 and .919 while facing 182 fewer shots – nearly nine per game.
It’s the same story for their careers as well.
Lundqvist has 285 wins, a 2.26 GAA and .920 save percentage in the regular season while he’s 30-37 in the playoffs. Miller has 274 wins, a 2.61 GAA and .915 save percentage while going 25-22 in the postseason.
The difference is Lundqvist is 31 and Miller is 33, but Miller said Friday he sees no reason why he can’t play into that range of 38-40 years old.
“I feel good now. I’m trying to do some good things for this club,” Miller said. “I enjoy the challenge and don’t really picture myself stopping until they tell me to. As long as there’s a spot in the NHL, I think I’ll be competing to do the best I can.
“Obviously I want to win a championship and feel that kind of team success. I’ll chase it as long as I can.”
Miller has not been peppered with much contract talk by the media this year because there’s been nothing new to discuss. But interim coach Nolan brought the issue out Wednesday by saying he’d rather build around Miller than trade him. Miller then confirmed Friday he’s had a few general conversations with LaFontaine, the team’s president of hockey operations.
Miller on Nolan: “It’s nice to hear. I appreciate that kind of gesture from somebody that’s been around hockey for a long time. I just have to see what the plan is around here. His opinion goes a long way but it’s going to be up to Patty LaFontaine and whoever he brings in as GM to make that ultimate player personnel decision. It’s nice that your coach believes in you. You take it as a positive but there’s still a lot to see around here.”
Miller termed his talks with LaFontaine as “exploratory.” He said the former Sabres star is still taking stock of an organization that has been in selloff mode, most recently the Oct. 27 trade of Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders.
“You have to pause for a minute and evaluate where you’re at,” Miller said. “You just can’t keep shedding everything I guess. I think they’re trying to figure out guys they want to hang on to and they think they can build a core around. We’ll see how it goes.”
If the Sabres are interested in keeping Miller, something owner Terry Pegula has also indicated he wants to entertain, they’re going to have to accelerate their rebuilding phase. But Miller said it can’t be through idle words.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk over my time. It’s about actions at this point,” he said. “I’m not going to sit around and let promises get thrown around. There’s improvement but there’s a long way to go. We have to stick with it.
“This is the team I’m with, the team I’m a part of. It’s the organization and city I’ve grown to love and I need to do what I can to set a foundation here, whether it’s the next 4-5 months, 4-5 weeks, 4-5 days – or if it’s years in the future.”
As for tonight’s game, the Sabres are 2-6-1 under Nolan and have scored just 13 goals in the nine games. They have just two regulation wins in 29 games this season and just 10 in the 60 games since Lindy Ruff was fired in February.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have burst to the top of the Atlantic Division with four straight wins. They’ve gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and 10-1-2 in their last 13.