Friday night, the Sabres closed out another season of spectacular failure. They did it with Ryan Miller in net, possibly for the last time.
Miller has long been a player who draws attention to himself, be it on the ice or in the locker room with his sometimes emotional, rarely uninteresting interviews. So naturally, the notion that Friday may have been Miller’s last game in a Sabre uniform had Sabre Nation buzzing. Lots of intelligent opinions have been put forth in recent days across blogs and Twitter, and here, I will attempt to give you my own (although I make no promises of its intelligence).
In short, I have very mixed emotions about this.
I used to believe (as recently as February) that there were untouchables on this Sabres team. Vanek, Myers, Pominville, and Miller were players I’d have considered off-limits, guys who a Stanley Cup-winning team could (and should) be built around. It was unlikely to me that Darcy Regier could flip any of these players for a return significant enough to overcome the loss of actually having that player on the roster… you know, if we wanted the Sabres to contend for anything other than a lottery pick.
The trade of Jason Pominville to Minnesota changed that mindset. Hell, it pulled that thought out of my brain and smashed it to tiny bits. If Pominville can fetch a forward and a goalie that may eventually become quality starters, as well as a first and a second round pick, what might the return for Miller be? Suddenly, everyone is tradeable!
Miller was a goaltender we thought could lead us to the promised land. He hasn’t. And now that he’s 32 and poised to receive another high-dollar contract next summer, it seems like we’re all ready to give up on that possibility. But it’s not just Miller’s fault that the Sabres are unsuccessful, and ironically, that may be the very reason he needs to go.
It’s an easy statement to make in hindsight, but I think it’s a widely-held belief by now that the “old core” of Vanek, Roy, Pominville, and Miller was a rotten one from the start. Regier has seemingly come to realize this as well and has begun over the last nine months to dismantle that core. So far, so good: he clearly won the Roy for Ott/Pardy swap (evidenced by the fact that Derek Roy is no longer a Dallas Star), and on paper, the haul for Pominville is quite impressive.
Miller, more so than Pominville or Vanek, has represented the culture of the Buffalo Sabres for the last few years. Trading him would radically change the mental makeup of that team. If that’s part of what a rebuild should achieve, then the choice is obvious.
The problem with all of this, at least in my own mind: I like Ryan Miller. I don’t want him to leave.
I’ve written plenty in the past defending Miller. Stats be damned, I genuinely like what he brings to the table - not just on the ice, but also in the locker room. He’s emotional, he’s thoughtful, he’s brutally honest, he’s passionate, he’s candid. I still believe that these are good attributes. Not only do they make him a leader, but they also make him vastly different than your average boring, robotic NHLer (and by extension, that makes him the best interview on the team by far - something for which you’d think the media would love him, but what do I know).
Most importantly, he’s still a good goaltender – and I think he takes more flak than he should. Consider the elimination at the hands of the Rangers two Fridays ago. Perhaps my point of view is a bit skewed because I’m not someone who boos, but as the Bronx cheers rained down on Miller I felt it was a bit undeserved. Sure, the mishandled puck that Ryan Clowe put into the net for a 3-0 Rangers lead was a terrible play. There’s five seconds left in the period - flop on the damn puck, get a faceoff, go into the locker room down 2-0 and stop the bleeding.
But when pucks get deflected off random Sabre appendages, that’s a little unfair. Maybe those who booed didn’t see replays of the first two goals? (I don’t know – I was there and saw them rather clearly myself.) And not for nothing, but the entire team – not just Miller – decided to take the night off.
(There's nothing wrong with booing, by the way. It's just not how I roll. Boo away if it's warranted.)
As far as I’m concerned, you can place any NHL goaltender behind the craptastic defense Miller had in front of him this year and expect similar numbers. I don’t think Miller gives up nearly as many soft goals as he used to back when he earned the nickname “Mr. Softee”, and I wonder sometimes if that perception is still held against him.
That’s the nature of the Buffalo sports fan, though. Hard to please, quick to anger, doesn’t forget anything. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. As a friend of mine is fond of saying: “There’s self-loathing… and then there’s being a Buffalo sports fan.” Damn it, we just want things to go right once. We’re in the neighborhood of 100 combined non-championship Bills and Sabres seasons, sometimes without a prayer of contending and other times coming agonizingly close before succumbing. Haven’t we suffered enough? We’ve earned the right to be more demanding, haven’t we?
I still believe Miller is a goaltender who can help the Sabres break that Curse of Buffalo. Quality goaltenders don’t exactly grow on trees, and frankly I think the notion that you can win a Cup with garbage between the pipes because it almost happened that one time in 2010 is ridiculous. I’m not convinced a goaltender of equal value can be found in trade or on the free agent market, I’m not convinced that 53 games of Jhonas Enroth is enough to demonstrate that he’s ready for 65-70+ games per year, and I don't know if David Leggio or Matt Hackett are ready to contribute in the NHL.
That being said: this team is nowhere near contending for a Stanley Cup. Logically, moving Miller for players and/or picks to further the rebuild is the right thing to do. Although my emotional side still thinks “Eff that noise, you like Miller and want him to remain a central part of this team going forward”, I realize that my logical side must win out. It’s imperative, though, that the Sabres get significant value if Emotional Me is to be pacified.
Oh, and one more thing. To the guy who gloated “say goodbye to Miller, it’s his last game!” at me outside the First Niagara Center Friday night - regardless of what the Sabres do about Ryan Miller, you’re still a dumbass.
Sign both Miller and Vanek to cap friendly but well compensation for their talents 3 year deals. If things aren't going well in two years their contracts won't be hard to move and should still get a good return for them.
Ironic that you mention a name like "Bernier" while professing your love for Darcy Regier. Don't get that comment? Here's a hint, it goes in sequence with a couple other names like Zubrus, Moore, Torres, Boyes...
@GregAntilla Zubrus, Torres and Boyes were poor choices, eh? Zubrus is a regular with the Devils, while Torres plays for the Sharks and Boyes is 3rd in team scoring with the Islanders. IOW, these guys had talent. Why wasn't it on display here? Go ask Lindy.
@Richard DAngelo You're absolutely right, it was Lindy. Once he was out of there, the Sabres got back into the chase and made the playoffs.
@Richard DAngelo Oh, I can't think for myself? I subscribe to Gleason and Sullivan, huh? You must know me personally, right? Get over yourself. The reality here is that they have a job writing for a major news source while you write comments on the internet, just like the rest of us. Keep up the good work, and enjoy the scary bad hockey we're about to watch for the next 3-5 years, courtesy of your hero.
Hit the thumbs up on THAT, Kaz.
@GregAntilla The majority of people seem to want Darcy gone because they believe what they're told by the likes of Gleason and Sullivan. IOW, they don't think for themselves - you included.
I judge Darcy since the Pegula takeover when he finally had the freedom to do his job. And since then he has pulled off these trades:
Roy / Ott
Gaustead / 1st rd pick
Pominville / Larsson, Hackett, 1st & 2nd rd pick
Kassian & Gragnani / Hodgson & Sulzur
Leopold / 2nd & 5th rd pick
Regehr / 2nd rd pick
1st & 2nd rd pick / Girgensons (after he picked up Grigorenko with his first)
Tell me, which of these deals is bad for the Sabres? I can answer that for you - NONE! And I have every confidence that he will get a good return for Miller or Vanek if it comes to that.
I have been dedicated to hockey and the NHL since 1964 and I don't need some arrogant twit like Gleason or Sullivan to tell me how or what to think.
@Richard DAngelo Strategically avoided mentioning Bernier, Moore and Torres figures, eh? Moore has 22 goals total in the last 3 seasons combined. Bernier has 14 in 3 seasons combined. Torres... not looking so good either, but as you mentioned, he plays on a hockey team. Wow, what merit! Brad Boyes, 10 goals on a middle of the road Islanders team. Amazing. But it was Lindy. Interesting that Vanek, Pominville, Roy etc have had pretty respectable seasons with this team under his tenure. But yes, let's dip Regier's balls in gold. The majority of people want him gone for a reason. This is his team, he built the team, they haven't won a playoff series in half a decade.
Your article is a tacit endorsement of Darcy Regier - who has my support as well.
Here's the thing...certainly Miller could be traded and we all know he's a valuable commodity. IF the trigger is pulled, I am totally confident that Darcy will get assets that more than equal Miller. Same to be said of Vanek. He has proven it in the past.
So the point is, why worry? I'd love to see Bernier in here with Enroth as backup and Hackett as 2nd backup. I feel totally confident with that lineup in goal.
So I say the future looks bright...plus we have Armia coming in next season, who by all accounts is NHL ready. Playoffs in two years!
So you came home and wrote about it from behind the safety of a computer screen on your bloggy blog instead of confronting the guy to his face?
Miller is the heart and soul of the Sabres; he has to stay. What he needs is a defense not a pass out of town. I wouldn't trade him for any other goalie in the league.
Well written. Tyler Myers was incredibly soft this season. He should be bought out and traded. I too like Miller, but Jhonas Enroth is ready. Miller is as trade-able as Pominville, and so is Vanek at this point. OTT and PARDY were excellent acquisitions.
@DavidBarr1 Not sure he can be bought out AND traded, but I get your point. I still have hope someone can kick him in the ass and get him to be a good defenseman.. it'd be nice if it could be in Buffalo, but...