BUFFALO, N.Y. — A fixture in the Buffalo Sabres’ net for the nearly a decade, Ryan Miller was one hot topic in the Nickel City again last season, but maybe not for all the right seasons.
The Sabres missed the playoffs, often performed listlessly, axed longtime coach Lindy Ruff, and Miller — the veteran goalie three years removed from his Vezina Trophy-winning season — became a lightning rod for the harsh criticism.
Then, when it was learned that Miller, with one year left on his multi-year contract, had sold the Buffalo townhouse where he had lived for seven years, visions of Allied Vans hauling his trophies to some other NHL destination grew plenty vivid.
“It did look like I was saying ‘I’m out of here,’” he admitted earlier this season. “People are going to believe or not going to believe, but I thought it was a smart business decision to have it on the market in the last year of my deal so I didn’t get low balled. That was my thinking.”
So was it something of a surprise that Miller was still a Sabre when training camp opened for the 2013-14 season?
Sure it was.
But now Miller, 33 and the Sabre’s all time leader in saves (13,847), wins (270) and games (509), said he’s ready to put all the bad karma behind him and pull on the blue Buffalo sweater once more.
“I’m happy to be here,” Miller said. “I have a great connection with the city and I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’m just looking forward to getting started and doing it all over again. I feel like I’m in a good place. I have a lot of goals this year that I want to accomplish. A lot of it revolves around me playing good hockey. It’s another year to play NHL hockey, and that’s a good thing.”
Miller entered the new season with plenty to prove.
Prove that he can lead the Sabres back to respectability.
Prove that he is still among the NHL’s puckstopping elite.
Prove to prospective suitors (including Buffalo) that the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be is worthy of a mega-sized payday at the end of the year.
And prove that he is worthy once again of leading Team USA into the Olympic Winter Games, this time in Sochi, Russia, come February.
“People expect me to go out and prove something, Miller said. “But I [feel] I have to do that every year. As a goaltender for an NHL team, you have to go out and perform and play. You’re not going to get any free rides.”
Of course, the better he does performs in Sabre blue and gold, the better his shot is at wearing red, white and blue when the U.S. Olympic Team is picked for Sochi.
Miller was the starter on the 2010 team that came within an overtime goal of bringing back gold from Vancouver. But, he said, past success can’t help him win a roster spot this time around.
“I recognize,” he said, “like that time, that it’s a process. You have to make the team. And that’s based on the way you play. Last time, I think I prepared well and executed my plan. I come into a season with a plan. It’s how well you stick to it. Right now, it’s about getting all the little things done.
“Last Olympic year it was a lot of fun. We came up short by a goal. You want to get another opportunity. I have to put one foot in front of the other. I have to make the team, and then we can hit Sochi. If I want to start, or make that team, I’ve got to be playing at a high level. It just kind of falls into my NHL goals. I want to compete at a high level, and be the best that I can be. I just have to start with that kind of mindset.”
In the long-term, Miller’s performance this season will determine where the Michigan State alum and Hobey Baker winner continues his professional career in 2014-15. But for now he is focused on doing his best for the Sabres.
Miller said he never requested a trade from Buffalo last season, but he did discuss with agent (and former NHL netminder) Mike Liut possible destinations that might prompt him to agree to waive the no-trade clause in his contract.
“The best thing to do was look at the environment and let things play out,” he said. “We really didn’t have a lot of discussions about that kind of thing.
“If you play long enough, it’s the sort of thing you can expect to have this kind of discussion at some point. I have to be professional enough to do the job. I’m doing it in a city I’m familiar with, and [where] I’m very much at home.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.