The Buffalo Sabres are in last place in the NHL and Ryan Miller is playing as well as he ever has in his career. As the Olympics and the deadline approach, he's in for a hectic couple of months.
BUFFALO – If the Buffalo Sabres are intent on trading Ryan Miller this season, they should speed up their search for a GM and hire one as soon as possible. Because Miller’s value on the trade market can’t possibly get any higher than it is right now.
In what has become a cruel irony for Sabres fans, Miller has played better this season than he has in years, perhaps the best he’s played in his career. And the Sabres are in last place overall. Should they stay there and Miller doesn’t get dealt, he should receive serious consideration to be the first goalie in league history to win the Vezina and play for a last-place team. (In 1953-54, Al Rollins of the Chicago Black Hawks was named MVP despite the fact the Hawks were 12-51-7 and gave up a league-high 242 goals.)
And Miller has not been better this season than he was on Sunday, stopping 49 shots in regulation and overtime and six more in the shootout to lift the Sabres to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals. To put how badly the ice was tilted into perspective, Alex Ovechkin had 12 shots in the first 65 minutes, which was five fewer than the Sabres entire roster.
Miller’s performance was epic, classic, one for the ages. And it put two aspects of the next couple of months into sharp perspective. First, he will be the No. 1 goalie for the Americans at the Olympics in Sochi. Second, the way he is playing, he could make a playoff team a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in a big hurry if the Sabres trade him before the March 5 trade deadline.
In fact, the Detroit Free Press recently reported that the goaltending selection has been completed and the three goalies for Team USA will be Miller, Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. If that is the case, Miller’s status as the No. 1 man might be the biggest no-brainer in hockey history.
“I got nothing, boys,” Miller said when told of the report. “So I’d say that’s a little bit jumping the gun. I’ll check my messages, but I haven’t heard anything. We’ll have to see what they say in a few days.”
As an interesting sub-plot, Miller stopped Ovechkin cold 13 times including the shootout. Luckily for Ovechkin, the Capitals meet the Sabres twice before the Feb. 15 date between the Russians and Americans in Sochi, which gives Ovechkin plenty of time to get Miller out of his head. Going back to last season, Ovechkin hasn’t scored on Miller in his past 16 shots – 17 including the shootout.
“I didn’t want to give him a chance to do what he wanted to do,” Miller said. “I want to have a good night every night and I want to bring myself to a place where I don’t get too excited on the ice, play my game. I’m trying to learn as the years go by. I seem to play my best when I don’t react too much. I’m just trying to dial my emotions down and bring my focus up and I thought (Sunday) was good for me to get some confidence doing that.”
As far as a trade is concerned, the Sabres need a new GM first. There are reports that the Sabres are zeroing in on candidates and one of the new GM’s first orders of business will be to trade Miller or try to negotiate a long-term deal with him. The way he has rebounded this season, there probably would not be a better goalie around whom to rebuild, but the sentiment is that Miller might not have the patience for that at this stage of his career.
But with a little more than six weeks until the Olympics begin and three days before the U.S. roster for Sochi is named, Miller will likely be in news for other reasons than his future in Buffalo for the next little while. And when pressed about whether he thinks he deserves a spot on the team, Miller drew on his past, a past that included being the MVP of the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
“I think I’ve been pretty good in tournament play over my career, going back to juniors and college,” he said. “Those short sequences when you get into a week and a half, two weeks, I’d like to think it’s something I’m pretty good at. Hopefully it’s something they value as an asset.”
(Special thanks to Lukas Campbell for filing quotes for this story.)
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.