On Wednesday night, the Buffalo Sabres played their final game at First Niagara Center before the Olympic break. And with all the trade rumors surrounding Ryan Miller and his expiring contract, it could have been the last one the goalie ever plays there in a home jersey.
If it was, it couldn’t have gone much worse. But the 5-1 loss perfectly detailed Buffalo’s current situation and served a reminder why the 11-season fan favorite is likely getting dealt in the first place.
Drafted by the Sabres in the fifth round of the 1999 draft, Miller has been on his way out from the only franchise he’s known since last season. Around the 2013 trade deadline there was plenty of buzz the American Olympian was going to be dealt, so much so fans cheered him in his last home game before the cut-off date.
But this time, it appears to be a foregone conclusion, an inevitable ending. Miller is in the final year of his contract and is set to hit the free agent market this summer, if he so chooses. And with the Sabres sitting at the bottom of the league in a fresh rebuild, the 33-year-old Miller will find a better opportunity to win his first Stanley Cup elsewhere. The Sabres are looking to get the best return on futures they can, whether it’s from Minnesota, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, or some other wild card team.
For first time this season, Ryan Miller is short and very unhappy after a game. Hard to blame him considering situation.
— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) February 6, 2014
Miller won the AHL’s top goalie award with the Sabres’ affiliate in 2005 and a Vezina in 2010. In his first two seasons as Buffalo’s starter, the Sabres made back-to-back Eastern Conference finals, but went basically stagnant for the next five years under former GM Darcy Regier. The fact Buffalo never equaled that early success again with Miller was never the Miller’s fault; he established himself as one of the select few NHL netminders who could be counted on to give his team a lift each and every season. His MVP performance at the 2010 Olympics was crucial to Team USA’s silver medal finish.
It was a tough night for Miller Wednesday and not just because he was being left out to dry, or that he had five goals hung up against him. It was also tough because it could mark the end of an era in Buffalo that started on such a high note, but finished as flat as can be. The original potential was never reached. For any elite athlete, that can be a tough swallow.
If the Sabres do trade Miller before the Olympics, they’ll have to do it before the roster freeze at 3:00 Friday afternoon.
But if GM Tim Murray can’t find the right deal before then, he’ll have a little more time after the break to do it. In that case, Miller would be back in Buffalo Feb. 25 against Carolina, Feb. 26 against Boston and Feb. 28 against San Jose with a chance to go out in a more typical Ryan Miller fashion.