Thanks, Ryan

I hadn’t had a desk at the arena very long before Kevin Snow sent me downstairs to work on my first feature for the program. Go downstairs and grab Miller. Just go grab the team’s biggest star and see if he’s got a few minutes to spare. No big deal.

So I went downstairs armed with a barrel of questions – some relevant to the task at hand, others not so much – and I spent about an hour sitting across from a guy who I’d practically idolized the last handful of years.

See, Dominik Hasek is why I wanted to be a goalie. Rolling around the crease, making spectacular saves. You couldn’t find a better idol for a young kid playing house at West Seneca. There were plenty of other reasons I was inspired to play goal. The gear, the masks, but Hasek was the cornerstone of it all.

Ryan Miller, is who is responsible for me truly falling in love with goaltending.

The league was locked out my freshman year of college. I remember trying to follow the Amerks as best I could from Cleveland and scoring tickets to one of their cameos in Buffalo that year. Miller’s eventual arrival coincided with the years I played for John Carroll. It was perfect timing. His fluid precision was a joy to watch. I did my best to model my play after his.

He was really the first athlete I truly tried to do that with. And not long after that, there I was sitting with him discussing his offseason training, his role on the league’s competition committee and a host of other topics. We eventually boiled down to talking gear, as most goalies do, and he even gave me some insider info on how some of the goalies in the league at that time cheated the system. It was a great conversation, and I can think of no better baptism for that job than getting to shoot the shit with Ryan Miller for a while.

Throughout the course of the year there were small interactions – almost all gear focused – that have stuck with me. Not so much because I got to talk about goalie gear with Ryan Miller, but because he took the time to remember that sliver of information about the skinny kid who worked in PR.

Of course, I’d been following him closely even before that year I spent with the Sabres. It was a treat to have such an up close look at what he did on a daily basis in practice or in games. He wasn’t a goalie who just tried to get hit with the puck. In an era where blocking goalies were prevalent, he had a unique way of always looking so composed in his movement in net. Like everything was playing out according to a script. His footwork and movement in the crease was fluid and his ability to read the play set him apart from so many of his peers. He had a swagger to his game as well that I always felt was particularly notable during shootouts. He stayed out of his stance longer than you might expect and he had a fake poke check he would mix in from time to time as well. There was just so many layers to his game, I could analyze and break down his play for hours if given the opportunity.

I’m not sure if I’d have the same relationship with goaltending that I do today had Miller not come along. My college career was hardly notable, but I craved to play more no matter what. Miller and his prime years in Buffalo have a lot to do with that.

We all love this stupid team for one reason or another. Miller’s 10-plus years serve as cornerstone of my connection to the Sabres and to goaltending as a whole.  

Thanks, Ryan.

The Instigator Podcast 9.21 – Miller Time

Ryan Miller’s career is coming to an end and we attempt too give him a proper send off, celebrating his career with the Sabres and discussing just how much of an impact he made on the ice and in the community. We also touch on Tom Wilson, the Department of Player Safety and the fallout from Monday’s incident in New York.

Two in the Mailbox: Quarantine Partner, Center Targets and Ryan Miller’s Gear

Quarantine life has us all a little wacky, so it felt like a good time to roll out another mailbag post. Below are questions about who I’d want to be quarantined with, GM candidates and my personal favorite, goalie equipment.

Mike/@mike_mckinnon22 – What was your favorite Ryan Miller setup?

Tough call on this one. Miller wore a really unique set of pads for a number of years that you couldn’t get at retail. They were a combination of a handful of different products that included the old Koho 580s, Vaughn Vision and Heaton 10s (among others). The pads got updated with different graphics over the years so that CCM and Reebok could advertise new retail models, but the pad itself was a unicorn. They were fairly old fashioned, featuring not just knee rolls but shin rolls as well but there was a level of nostalgia that they offered.

Picking my favorite set up of Miller’s is tough since my favorite mask of his debuted in 2011-12 when he added the Buffalo script to the chin of his iconic bison head mask. He had an awesome set of Vaughn V6 pads in 2014 (when he finally abandoned the Frankenpads) and his Koho 580 set from early in his career was elite. However, my favorite is pictured here. The Vector graphic he picked up towards the end of 2005-06 looked awesome in Buffalo’s red and black and remains a cool pad graphic to this day. It wasn’t the greatest retail pad and the graphic looked better on Miller’s pads than at retail, but the arrow graphics played well in the Sabres color scheme. It also looked pretty close to the mismatched RBK Premier blocker he started to wear after breaking his thumb. So that’s my choice. Continue reading

Reflecting on Some of the Most Noteworthy Trades in Sabres History

In 50 years of hockey, the Buffalo Sabres have swung their fair share of trades. From minor league swaps to marquee blockbusters, the club isn’t lacking when it comes to trade history.

Buffalo’s transaction history provides a beautiful cross section of NHL history. From the 70s and 80s eras where blockbusters came about regularly to the modern era where GMs are loathe to make any waves for fear of immediate retribution. In attempt to celebrate some of the club’s history, I ran down a list of some of the most noteworthy trades in franchise history. This isn’t a proper ranking or numbered list, nor is this meant to be a full accounting of every important trade in club history. Some of these trades in and of themselves are little more than blips on the radar, but they set the stage for bigger things down the road. Meanwhile, others are tried and true blockbusters, noteworthy for all the reasons you’d expect.

One thing that ties them all together is some sort of noteworthy feature or function, whether the inclusion of a franchise cornerstone or setting the wheels in motion for something bigger. Like laying the foundation to acquire a franchise cornerstone.

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Ranking the Greatest Masks in Sabres History

For a club with nearly 50 years of history, the Sabres sometimes lack a laundry list of alumni at certain positions. Goaltender is a unique one as the club has enjoyed long stretches of success at the position.  It’s a trait many teams do not share.

That does create some issues when it comes to the entire alumni pool and more trivial things such as ranking goalie helmet designs. With the Sabres at the center of their fair share of negative articles, it seems like a good a time as any to share my favorite Sabres goal mask designs as a way to distract, even for a short while, from a season that’s as dreary as anyone can remember.

I’ve put together what I feel are the ten best masks in Sabres history with a few honorable mentions filtered in when appropriate. Each ranking was based on a single mask a goalie wore as a Sabre (except when multiple masks were considered) and the overall paint job was considered. Bonus points for minute details common on modern masks didn’t factor in since that created the potential for excluding older masks.

Like any good listicle, I’ll go in order from ten to one, so if you’re impatient just scroll to the bottom. Disagreements and debate are welcome, be sure to share them in the comments section or via Twitter. Continue reading

Celebrate Ryan Miller’s Return with Highlights

The inevitability that Ryan Miller was going to be traded two seasons ago was something I was aware of even before the season had begun. A looming UFA, Miller held value across the league as a quality starting netminder and didn’t fit well with the Sabres rebuild.

That didn’t make it any easier the day he was traded.

Miller received a fair dose of criticism during his time in Buffalo and, to this day, I don’t understand how he was so under-appreciated. Perhaps it was because he was living in Hasek’s shadow for many fans. Maybe it was simply because a “Ryan Miller Shoutout” was unacceptable for some. Either way, when I look back at his time two years removed from his trade, I appreciate the talent we had even more. The post-Briere and Drury years were rife with under-achievement and, frankly, wasted some of the best hockey of Miller’s career.

By no means do I think the Sabres should have kept him, however. Tim Murray made the right decision in moving Miller when he did. It was the right move for the Sabres and it was the right move for Miller as well. I’m glad to see that Miller is playing well in Vancouver and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the ice at First Niagara Center once again.

Perhaps this period of Sabres hockey in which the answer in goal is somewhat cloudy will help clarify Miller’s worth to the organization during his tenure. In the meantime, enjoy this collection of Miller highlights. Continue reading

Sabres deadline solidifies foundation for rebuild

It may have taken a late flurry, but Tim Murray put his stamp on the organization with a firm, aggressive series of trades around the 2014 trade deadline.

A look at the players that have come and gone since the start of the 13-14 season.
A look at the players and picks that have come and gone since the start of the 13-14 season. I consider a lateral move one that saw the Sabres acquire and flip a player for additional assets.

He got started early by sending Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis on Friday and threw his hat in the ring with one of the earlier trades on Wednesday. Murray shipped Brayden McNabb, two second round picks and Jonathan Parker to Los Angeles for Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers.

Murray’s punctuated his first deadline with two 11th hour deals involving three of this pending UFAs that ensured previous investments would continue to pay dividends. After finding a dance partner to take Matt Moulson (and Cody McCormick), Murray managed to flip Jaroslav Halak for a younger goaltender with term.

It was a productive deadline that provides the framework for the way Murray will shape the roster through the 2014 and 15 drafts. Two drafts that will see the Sabres make four (possibly five) first round selections. Continue reading

Gone but not forgotten

The Word document for this post sat blank for quite some time. Probably because it’s still difficult to put to words exactly what I’m feeling regarding Ryan Miller’s departure.

Miller’s departure was something I was prepared for and expecting dating back to last year’s deadline. It was clear that the Sabres were moving in the direction of a full rebuild and a 33 year-old goaltender typically isn’t a major part of those practices. Having a full calendar year to consider his landing spot and prepare emotionally probably made Friday – and yesterday for that matter – much easier to stomach. Continue reading

Don’t rule Miller out despite Quick being named starter

Maybe you’ve heard, but Ryan Miller will not get the first start for Team USA in Sochi. Jonathan Quick will go against Slovakia in the first round robin game and it would appear that many a fan is up in arms over the decision.

There shouldn’t be too much cause for concern that Miller either a, won’t wind up being the go-to guy for the US; or b, won’t see any ice at all during the Olympics. While Quick is getting the nod against Slovakia that doesn’t rule Miller out of either of the following round robin games, nor does it mean that he isn’t in line to see significant time in the tournament.

What is known is that Quick was the prohibitive favorite to not only make the US team but carry the squad based on the USA Hockey meetings that began this summer. This much was spelled out clearly in the behind-the-scenes coverage granted to Kevin Allen and Scott Burnside. Based on the coverage, Quick’s hold on the number one spot, in the eyes of the USA Hockey management team, maintained throughout the year and even through his injury. However, Miller’s play not only elevated him to the forefront of the goaltending conversations, but from fourth to second in the eyes of the decision makers.

Since Quick entered the year with what appears to be a large lead over his fellow countrymen, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re expecting to get him a game and an early one in the tournament. He certainly deserves a start and having him go against a team like Slovakia is a good choice for Bylsma. The Slovaks have an impressive roster and should make some noise in the tournament. However, you’d also expect that they’re still out matched by the US which will allow Quick to play against a formidable opponent with what should amount to strong support from the team in front of him. Continue reading

Leveraging assets may be the key to Sabres deadline deals

The Olympic trade freeze will lift in two weeks and the ten days to follow will be filled with a flurry of rumor mongering and transactions as the NHL trade deadline nears.

Tim Murray is going to be more than a little busy both during and after the Olympics as he maneuvers to swap some of the talent on his roster as he continues to steer the Sabres rebuild. It’s no secret that his primary focus will be on his trio of pending UFAs with Ryan Miller’s status being of the utmost interest to observers.

The end game with those three is all but decided. They’ll be sold off to the highest bidder with Murray attempting to net at least two assets in return for each. In the case of Miller, the asking price will likely begin with four pieces and could end up at three or two depending on what the market bears.

I feel that the Sabres are nearing a stage in which picks will not benefit them as much as prospects or players who are nearly NHL regulars. While first round picks are obviously valuable currency, the stockpile the Sabres have been going through should allow Murray to be creative with some of his non-first round picks.

Additionally, I’d be in full support of Murray extending some of Buffalo’s younger talents to the trade market in order to make a hockey trade or two in the coming months. This particular strategy being available as an option to him both between now and the deadline and leading up to the draft and summertime.

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