It’s nothing new to suggest that an NHL team can survive without an “elite” goaltender, but with a little over a year on his contract, the Sabres are approaching a crossroads with Ryan Miller. As the franchise looks to move forward, what’s the right move on Miller? Jeremy White takes a crack at it...
Let’s treat a few things in this piece as constants.
- Ryan Miller is a good goalie.
- The comment section of this piece will likely be dominated by a discussion of the first constant.
Ok, moving on.
Ryan Miller is a good goaltender but one has to ask...what’s the real value? What’s the point in having a 6.25 million dollar goaltender when he’s frequently beaten by counterparts who make 1/2, 1/4, or even 1/8 his salary?
This isn’t about Miller, it’s about goaltending in the NHL.
You need good goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. You might even need great goaltending. You do not need the person that sits back between the pipes to be considered “elite” though.
If you break it down in its simplest form, a goaltender’s job is to stop the other team from scoring. Everything that you build around that player is to prevent the other team from getting shots on your goaltender. Puck possession is the very root of this discussion and if you were designing a team you’d have a few different ways to do it.
#1 - You could sink a ton of money into your “last line of defense” and hope that he (in this case Miller) could bail you out when you make mistakes.
#2 - You could almost disregard the position (with the exception of keeping the hot guy just for continuity) and put all of your focus on making sure that your “last line of defense” is called upon as infrequently as possible.
Sign me up for a model that’s much closer to #2.
Ryan Miller is a good goaltender that’s frequently wasted on this team. The Buffalo Sabres are currently 30th in the league in puck possession. It’s not a surprise that they have the most losses in the NHL, and they sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. You can’t score if you don’t have the puck. You can only be scored on when you don’t. Pretty simple - have puck, will win.
The Sabres have faced backup goaltenders 11 times this season. ELEVEN times in 24 games, and while the record is 6-5, let’s look at that a bit closer.
The Sabres have 6 wins against backups:
Montreal - Peter Budaj - 5-4 Shootout win
Boston - Anton Khudobin - 4-2 win
Florida - Scott Clemmensen - 3-2 shootout win (Theodore in relief)
TB - Mathieu Garon - 2-1 win
NJ - Johan Hedberg - 4-3 shootout win
Toronto - Ben Scrivens - 2-1 win
Carolina - Dan Ellis - 40 saves on 41 shots
Carolina - Justin Peters - 37 saves on 40 shots
Boston - Anton Khudobin - 25 saves on 26 shots
Washington - Michael Neuvirth - 22 saves on 24 shots
Toronto - Ben Scrivens - 31 saves on 32 shots
Let’s go simply on a point percentage: In their 11 of their games with the Sabres, the Island of misfit backups has picked up 13 of 22 potential points. 5 wins, and 3 shootout losses means that backup goaltenders have picked up 60% of the avaiable points in their games with the Sabres.
Ryan Miller played in every one of those games for Buffalo. He picked up 12 points.
Backups - 13
Miller - 12
This is not about Miller. The answers to the “WHY” of this are actually pretty easy to come up with:
Because the Sabres aren’t good...
Because the Sabres defense corps is a mess...
Because the other teams have elite centers..
But every time that you say “The Sabres” you have to know that they are built with Ryan Miller as the biggest piece of that. Struggles all over the ice lead to Miller not turning in the type of Win/Loss numbers that he should.
Again, I’m putting very very little of this on Miller. I’m simply asking...what’s the advantage?
Tomorrow night the Devils will likely go to journeyman Johan Hedberg to face Miller. Who has the advantage?
In net it’s the Sabres right?
On the ice, like so many of their matchups, it would appear it’s the opposition.
The reason for existence for this franchise is not to have the best goalie. It’s to win.
So here we have the decision that the Sabres must make on Miller - Re-sign, trade, or let the contract expire.
Re-Sign - If the Sabres are to do this it likely wouldn’t be something that crushes the team on salary cap. The Sabres spend 6.25 million on Miller, and don’t spend much on backup goaltender. Truth is, the 2 goalie salaries combined for any given team in the NHL run from about 5-8 million for most teams. Re-signing Miller would not put them in cap jail at all.
Trade - This might be the toughest to figure how it would go. Does Miller have value around the league? He’s MOST valuable to the Buffalo Sabres because of his brand. He’s a name. He’s well known throughout the league and if the Sabres traded him it would likely be viewed as giving up. They’d trade away another great goaltender. There would be some poking fun at the franchise for sure. What’s he worth to...a team that contends this year? Chances are if they’re contending they feel pretty good about their goaltending, right? With Miller’s big salary comes the potential for cap jail for another team (if they’re adding him to the mix with a well paid goalie to begin with) and there’s another year left on the contract. I think it’s more likely he’d have value as a rental next year. Even then, I’m not convinced you could get very good return value for a goaltender who, for the most part, is only as good as the team in front of him (as so many are). He’s a good goalie. He might be one of the best. What is a team going to give you for him? If it’s a contending team....they’re not stripping elite forwards or D off the team to give to you. It’s likely prospects that wouldn’t play in the playoffs, right? Good enough value for you?
Let the contract expire - Self explanatory. Delay your decision to the end of next year. The Sabres could make this decision before next season though. If Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier (if he’s here) have eyes on keeping Miller, my guess is that he’s signed well before he hits the market. Book it.
The game has changed. Between shot-blocking, defensive schemes, giant pads, obstruction, and everything else...goaltenders are being rendered almost irrelevant in a way.
It happened last night. Four goals against in Carolina and the immediate breakdown is “Never had a chance on that one”. It’s something that makes me think “Then why have a goalie” every time.
If the best in the world didn’t have a chance 4 times...how come these so-called scrubs seemed to have chances on all but 3.
How does one of the best lose to the also-rans? (I know, I know...see the excuse board up top...it’s never about the goalie, right? That’s the point here.)
It’s quite possibly the biggest issue for the Sabres going into the offseason. It’s going to take a GM to notice that you don’t build from the net out anymore. You build the best team you can, and then toss your best option in goal.
Ryan Miller is a very good goaltender that could win a lot of games and take a good team to the next level. Perhaps he could win a Cup. With the way the team in front of him is currently constructed...he’ll never have a chance.