Ryan Miller is just about no part of the Sabres’ problem right now, but it’s pretty hard to see if he’s part of their solution either.
Anyone with half a soul had to feel for Miller after Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers. He sat glumly at his locker for several minutes, chin in hand and pads still strapped to his legs, trying to make sense of his club’s latest display of offensive offense.
The quick and easy thought on Miller is he’s a bigger asset than we would have thought in September. Especially if he keeps playing well and other, much better teams keep losing their guys in net to injury or simple lack of faith.
For his part, Miller was frustrated Thursday to lose an edge at a bad time on Brad Richards’ goal midway through the third period and Mats Zuccarello’s clincher certainly should have been stopped. But it’s not like he’s getting much help.
“There’s a certain standard I have to play to and that’s keep a one-goal game with the ability for this team to tie it late and get points out of it,” Miller said. “That’s the difference tonight. I thought the guys were better as the game went on.”
It’s very difficult to get your head around what the Sabres should do with Miller. I used this space a scant three weeks ago to say Miller should be traded immediately after he stood on his head to make 43 saves and then beat the Los Angeles Kings in shootout.
Of course, everything in Sabreland spun on its axis the next day with the firings of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston.
Now you wonder. I’m open to the Sabres making Miller an offer and letting him decide his fate rather than just simply dumping him. But only a limited offer.
Remember, the Sabres aren’t clearly tanking anymore like they were under Regier. They’re just not very good. Big difference. The mood in the locker room is better and Pat LaFontaine means instant credibility in hockey circles.
Then antennas went up everywhere Wednesday when interim coach Ted Nolan said he wanted to build around Miller and not use him as an asset to deal.
The Sabres have been built from the net out for basically the last 20 years. And you can’t say it hasn’t gotten them places with Miller or Dominik Hasek.
Still, I don’t entirely agree with Nolan either. How about building with guys who can actually put the puck in the net? And I’m talking a couple of real NHL players, and not just kids out of the draft.
When Henrik Lundqvist got $59.5 million from the Rangers on Wednesday with a seven-year deal that takes him to age 38, you immediately wondered what Miller could get.
The Sabres are currently on the hook for $6.25 million for Miller in the last year of his deal, and he’s naturally going to be looking for more. He’s been really good all year but it’s also an Olympic year and a contract year. How will he be with that motivation gone?
My call? Three years, $21 million. No more. Take it or leave it. Turn it down and there’s absolutely no hard feelings.
Lundqvist, who has struggled this season and is just 9-11, seemed invigorated in the crease Thursday.
“Obviously it’s a proud moment for me to realize they want to commit to me and I want to commit to them,” he said. “But at the same time, I couldn’t be super happy because you want more wins. ... When you do that, I think you can enjoy the fact that what happened yesterday actually took place.”
Look around at other recent deals for younger guys and you see where this is going.
Nashville’s Pekka Rinne got seven years and $49 million last year. Boston’s Tuukka Rask got eight years and $56 million on a deal that kicked in this season and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick got 10 years and $58 million.
I’ve never been a fan of big money to goalies. You can win the Stanley Cup without breaking the bank for them. But with the cap rising, your cap percentage chewed up for a big contract isn’t that troublesome.
It’s known that LaFontaine and Miller have had discussions in the last couple of weeks. Not any sort of negotiations, mind you, but more of an open dialogue that allows both sides to take a pulse of the other.
Folks in hockey circles say LaFontaine is taking his time with search for his new general manager too, learning plenty of ins and outs about the hockey industry and getting all kinds of free and unsolicited commentary about his club. Would love to be a fly on the wall to hear some of that.
The job, in fact, is more desirable than the Sabres expected, a credit to LaFontaine’s cachet. You also have to believe questions on how to handle a 33-year-old free agent goaltender are a heavy part of the conversation.
A bigger question: No matter how many of Terry Pegula’s millions are thrown at him, why would Miller stay?