The clock is ticking for Darcy Regier. Not only is he likely working to save his job, he is working towards the expiration of the contracts of Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek.
Each of the player’s deals expire next summer and before he addresses any sort of negotiation Regier will need to decide which ones will be worth keeping around as the Sabres begin to transition to a new core. Of the three I think Ryan Miller is the one who could most use a change of scenery.
Based on his outbursts of frustration earlier in the year and the reality that his play will provide little support to a team that appears destined to wallow near the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season, it would appear that Miller has grown exasperated in Buffalo.
You can’t really blame him. Playing behind a lackluster team, Miller has managed to keep his save percentage well above .910 and is still sporting a sub-3.00 GAA. He has actually faced nearly 100 more shots than the next closest goalie in the league which is basically the equivalent of three more games worth of shots on goal.
His play has been nothing to sneeze at despite most ignorant fans thinking that he only ever allows four goals per game. I’ve given up being delicate about this subject and it would take something like 2,600 words to accurately describe why there is more to this position that the number of pucks that get behind you – although that is a big part of the equation.
I’ve done posts on Miller and goalies before. In fact, I detailed his stunning turnaround from last season and the follow up post to that (and an additional stats post) not only illustrated his value to the Sabres, but also gave some insight on misconceptions attached to goaltenders.
My reasoning on Miller being traded is rooted in his impending contract – something I pointed to when Jhonas Enroth was extended. Knowing that Miller will be looking for at least three years on his next deal would put him at 34 at signing and 37 when it expires is troubling. Not only would he be getting up in age during this deal, it would tether him to a team that would likely be manufacturing a two or three-year run to serious contention. Based on that theory, Miller would be 36 and in the final year of his deal as the Sabres came towards the top of the league (assuming that is the result of this rebuild).
Trading Miller now, although he would not bring top value, would allow the Sabres to redistribute some of his cap hit while gaining some return for retooling the roster. It would also give him a reprieve from playing behind a porous, passionless defense.
What is unfortunate is that the poor play of the Sabres has wasted an impressive run of hockey from Miller. He has extended his incredible run to close last season in which he went 22-11-5 with a 2.26 GAA and .924 SV% over 31 games. Unfortunately his number haven’t carried over this season as he plays behind the league’s worst puck possession squad and while facing the most shots in the league.
For those playing at home, that is roughly three games worth of shots on goal over the equivalent number of minutes for Miller. His numbers this year are actually quite impressive if you look at the tape as the majority of goals scored are on the side of perfection as opposed to being weak. Just to prove I’m not just a Miller apologist, he should’ve had two of the Flyers goals on Sunday and had he come up with a save there the game could’ve gone in a different direction.
Fact is that Miller isn’t just a good goalie, he’s a great one. It is easy for fans to watch a game, see a goal go in and blame the goaltender. That is human nature, you look for the easiest explanation. But for anyone who still sits on their couch and bitches about him not making big saves, or not being any good, actually watch him the entire game. Not only did he piece together five shutouts on his 22-win run to close out last year, he’s been a consistent stalwart playing behind a horrible team this season.
Obviously it barely matters who is in net for the Sabres this season. Whether it be Miller, Enroth or anyone else, the Sabres aren’t a very good team. Not only that, their play has clearly frustrated Miller to a point that I’ve never seen him reach before. I think it is a safe assumption that he will be curious to see what free agency could bring him next season and it would be a wise decision to capitalize on his strong play while you still can.
I’ve been a fan of the game Ryan Miller plays since his first appearance against the Flyers back in the days of black and red uniforms. I know he is not only a capable goaltender, but one that is capable of pairing with a strong team to go on a Cup run. I don’t see the Sabres as that team in 2013 or even next year. It would be silly to waste his talent and salary on a roster that needs to be going in another direction.