Thursday, March 14, 2013

If the Sabres want to bottom out...

trade goalie Ryan Miller this season.

Pandora's (or Pegula's) Box was opened Tuesday night as Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos opined his thoughts on Ryan Miller's future with the Buffalo Sabres (via cbssportsline's Brian Stubits.)

Kypreos said that the Sabres (along with the Florida Panthers) have put up the "For Sale" sign. Ville Leino is the first name he mentions the Sabres would want to move and then says:
"The other interesting name that's starting to float around is, yes, Ryan Miller. Miller's got another year at over $6M next season, but he's not going to get a contract extension and it's time to move on. They'd dearly love to move him at the deadline, but with that shrinking goaltender market out there it might not be the case. They might have to wait until the summer or even into next season.
But Ryan Miller's days are numbered in Buffalo."
Miller's the first of the "big three" (Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville being the others) to be mentioned as trade candidates by a major news outlet this season. This is the second time in the last year and a half his name has come up.  Back in November, 2011 Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal wrote, "We keep hearing that Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is out with a concussion and wouldn’t mind if the Sabres traded him." That, of course, was while Miller was recovering from getting steamrolled by Boston's Milan Lucic.

Which brings us to the here and now concerning whether or not Miller wants to be in Buffalo. The 32 year old 5th round draft pick (1999) has said in the past that he wants to be a Sabre and wants to win in Buffalo.

But the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason penned an article yesterday on whether any of the "big three," Miller included, would want to remain with the team when all their contracts expire at the end of next season.

Miller was quoted as saying:
“Do a couple of pieces need to come in? Or do they need to develop? How long is it going to take?” Miller said. “They are things you have to evaluate as you see decisions management makes to give you a timetable. Right now, yeah, it seems longer. But you have the trade deadline, the draft.
Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that’s going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward? Or are we not the core anymore? Who knows? They’re not decisions we make. We react off management and circumstance."
That's a lot of questions and indecision coming from your #1 netminder. Miller's not getting any younger and he's not seeing any positive changes in front of him.

It would seem as if "the Core" will soon be no more. The "big three" are the only "Rochester Guys" left, and with the salary cap set to go down to $64M next season, having over $18M tied up in those three just isn't going to work financially. So at least one of them looks to be on their way out.

The Sabres need to decide whether or not they are in a full-fledged rebuild-mode., Moving Miller at the deadline certainly would cement that as the nine-year veteran goalie has been the cornerstone for the team throughout most of his career.

And moving him should be a boon for the rebuilding process.

First, the obvious.

Miller is a bonafide #1 goalie. He also has ample playoff experience and has put up some pretty good numbers in the playoffs:  47 games, 25-22; 2.46 GAA, .917 sv%; 3 shutouts.

For a statistical comparison, "King" Henrik Lundqvist, who many use as a comparable (and some would say is a much better goalie) has this playoff line:  55 games, 25-30; 2.31 GAA, .917 sv%; 6 shutouts.

A team in need of a bonafide #1 in the playoff chase, or even in the playoffs but with questionable goaltending, would certainly look to Miller as their playoff ticket or a possible Stanley Cup piece for this season and/or next.

The market for a #1 goalie is yet to be determined, but we do know that there doesn't seem to be any #1's available.

Vancouver's Roberto Luongo has been the subject of trade rumors for almost a full year as back-up Cory Schneider excelled in a starting role late last season.

But Schneider's play has tailed off considerably and Luongo is back to being the go-to guy in Vancouver.

With that in mind, if Miller is truly being shopped, he's unequivocally the best goaltender on the market and might even end up being the top player on the market.

Of all the teams either in the playoffs or fighting for a playoff spot, maybe only a handful might be looking for a bonafide #1 goalie. But, with about three weeks until the deadline, much could change including who's in the race and any possible injuries that might affect the teams.

If GM Darcy Regier could find at least two teams looking to upgrade their goaltending, the return could be substantial (see Paul Gaustad and a 4th-round pick to Nashville for a 1st-rounder.)

In addition to the trade return, the team would more than likely be looking at a draft pick within the top-5 and possibly the top two or three.

There's no question that without Miller in net the team would be worse than their 27th place in the league this season. He has stolen a few games and kept them in almost all of the others. It's something that's been going on for most of the post Drury/Briere era.

Stats-geeks will point to his goals against average and save percentage over the last five-plus seasons pointing to slightly above average play, but more often than not, Miller's the reason that the team was even in the playoff hunt those years.

Without Miller, this team would have been near the bottom of the league. He's the main reason that the team has not had a top-five pick in those years.

Fact is, finding a team to take on Miller this season, if that's the intent of management, will help the Sabres bottom out and start a full-fledged rebuilding process.

It's an unpleasant scenario for Buffalo hockey, but unfortunately it may be a necessity as the team divests itself from "the core" and looks towards the future.

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