Seven years ago, Ryan Miller was the best American bread goaltender in the world, backstopping team USA to a gold medal showdown against Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. While the outcome was not in his favor, it can be argued it was still his crowning achievement as a professional.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at him now, but Miller was once one of the games most positionally sound goaltenders.
Buffalo’s saving grace and one of the best NCAA hockey players ever.
At 36 years old, Miller is far beyond his peak. Plateauing in the playoffs and struggling to regain his broken footing, Vancouver swept him off his feet in 2014. But in the days that followed, it’s been anything but a match made in heaven.
At every level of competition, Miller was a standout. At Michigan State, he set an NCAA record 26 shutouts in a single season. It didn’t take long for him to crack Buffalo’s roster and by the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, he was the undisputed starter.
2006-07 was dominated by Miller starting 63 games and posting a 0.911 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA. Good enough to get the Sabres back in the Conference Finals. However, they were ousted by Ottawa in five games.
His success continued into 2012 when he surpassed Dominik Hasek’s franchise record for wins taking only 6 years to do so compared to Hasek’s 9.
Unfortunately, Miller’s stout play didn’t translate to universal success for the Sabres. Offensively being one of the most abysmal teams in the league and decimated by injury, Miller would only play 40 games during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons with the Sabres putting up pedestrian numbers at best.
Buffalo/Boston is your fathers rivalry. Sure, the two teams went back and forth on several occasions in latter stages of the 2000’s, but it was a one sided affair.
Once Buffalo began to lose their grip on the regular season, the rivalry was all but an after thought. That was until Milan Lucic planted his own personal bench mark in history.Embed from Getty Images
Buffalo came to the Boston Garden on November 12th to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions. Lucic was sent on a break for the net when the puck got away from him at the Buffalo blue line. Miller then charged out to play the loose puck but after doing so, Lucic followed through with his hit.
Less than a month later, in a game against the Predators, Jordin Tootoo dipped his shoulder and drove to the net hard. Colliding hard with Miller, infuriated by the contact, he retaliated immediately which caused a line brawl.
This could be the beginning of the snowball effect which eventually lead to the next chapter in Miller’s career.
In early 2014, Miller was sent to St. Louis in the hopes that a change of scenery would be good for the goaltender with a lot of tread on the tires.Embed from Getty Images
Chicago ousted St. Louis in the first round of playoffs and a less than outstanding showing from Miller made him the odd man out.
Vancouver, who recently lost the services of their longtime goaltender Roberto Luongo, quickly signed Miller to a 3 year 18 million dollar contract. In the two seasons since the signing, Vancouver’s production has dipped significantly compared to the offensive power house they were once considered.Embed from Getty Images
In three playoff games in 2014-15, Miller only managed to go 1-1 with Eddie Lack coming in relief in the third game.
Briefly looking over his stats, Miller throughout his career has been extremely consistent. Aside from a few blemishes in 11 seasons, his save percentage is .916 and his GAA is 2.60. Which makes you wonder if he is the actual issue?
Early in his career, Buffalo boasted some talented teams, but they lacked the killer instinct and always seemed to come one goal shy of accomplishing their goal. Without a doubt Miller was the reason they enjoyed the success they had. It’s a shame the team around him was never able to support him. I imagine if they were able to draft a player like Jack Eichel during Miller’s peak in Buffalo, things may have ended differently.
While in St. Louis, it was too little too late. Ken Hitchcock even commented that with a player like Miller, they would have rather acquired him in the offseason. The idea being that the more time to integrate him to the game plan would mean more success he would have enjoyed.
Vancouver initially appears to be a wash. While in his first season, he was able to back stop another playoff appearance, the Canucks missed the spring tournament last season. With 2016-17 offering no relief to the aging core of players, it would take more than a Christmas miracle to qualify.
Unfortunately, more so for Miller, the market for an aging veteran goaltender is scarce. Especially one that wishes to see a significant portion of live action down the road.
What truly is unfortunate is how promising the career of Ryan Miller started out compared to how it’s going to end. I like a lot of others hope that the Canucks can right the ship and end the season as a playoff contender, but even then, nothing is guaranteed.