Over the last eight seasons, few names have been quite as synonymous with the Buffalo Sabres as Ryan Miller.
From late-round draft pick to franchise netminder, Miller has consistently shown himself to be an elite force between the pipes and one of the driving forces behind the Sabres since the 2005-06 season.
The 138th pick in the 1999 draft (also featuring late-round gem Henrik Zetterberg), Miller really started to make a name for himself during his collegiate dates at Michigan State. The winner of the 2001 Hobey Baker Award as the collegiate player of the year (becoming just the second goalie to do so after Robb Stauber), Miller set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts as well as a single-season record of 10.
Miller spent three seasons with Buffalo’s AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, slowly coming into his own as a future starter for the club. His final year in the AHL, he amassed 41 wins, tying Gerry Cheevers’ AHL record.
Following a successful first season as starter for the Sabres, in which he came within one game of leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals, Miller made his first All-Star Game in Dallas that year. He helped lead the Sabres to their second straight Conference Finals as well as the President’s Trophy for best regular season record.
Showing himself to be a workhorse, he would go on to set the Sabres single-season record for games played by a goalie with 73, passing Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek, and Martin Biron. He would play an astounding 76 games that season, leading the Sabres to another playoff appearance.
It was in 2009-10, however, that Miller broke through the glass ceiling. Miller led the Sabres to a Northeast Division title, posting 41 wins and winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. Not only that but he became an American hockey star during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, nearly leading the underdog United States to a gold medal, succumbing to Canada in overtime of the gold medal game. He would win IIHF best goaltender honors as well as tournament MVP.
Since then, Miller has been a rock for the increasingly talent-depleted Sabres. His numbers have failed to match that magical 2009-10 season but Miller remains a workhorse and one of the better goaltenders in the league.
What He Means To The Sabres
Plain and simple, he was one of the only reasons the Sabres were even sniffing the playoff picture last season.
After an early-season struggle, he upped his game to Vezina-quality levels that were belied by playing behind a bad team. His even-strength numbers were fantastic, better than his Vezina Trophy season, but horrid special teams numbers behind one of the worst special teams in the league was his undoing.
Soon to be 33, he is theoretically hitting a downturn in his career or will be doing so very soon. While he clearly makes the team better, his future with the club is uncertain at best.
If he sticks around, he’ll continue to carry the Sabres but may not be able to escape the quicksand of losing without more help around him.
Looking Ahead: 2013/14
The big caveat here is whether or not he will be on the Sabres opening night roster. He, along with Thomas Vanek, have been subject to much trade speculation this summer and could be a prime target to be moved at the NHL Entry Draft.
In the even that he’s not dealt, he would undoubtedly start the year as Buffalo’s number one goaltender but depending on the success of the team (not expected to be much), he could find himself ceding more and more time to Jhonas Enroth both to preserve a trade asset in Miller and prepare the young Enroth to take the reigns for good when Miller makes his way out stage left.
Miller will be important to someone in 2013/14 – it’s just a matter of whether or not he’s important to the Sabres.
Follow me: @RWTFC