There isn’t much to get excited about for the final game of the Anaheim Ducks’ season. Attention turned long ago to the Ducks’ offseason plans and where they might end up in the NHL draft lottery, but there is one more little-discussed storyline about a significant Ducks player. That is whether or not Ryan Miller plans on returning to the Ducks, assuming general manager Bob Murray still wants him. For the 38, soon to be 39-year-old Miller, it will be a difficult decision to make, as there are equally attractive reasons to re-sign with the Ducks, sign elsewhere or retire, so let’s unpack them.
Could Miller Retire?
Retirement is right on the doorstep for Miller who will be a free agent after the season. Whether or not he plays in the season finale — Miller did play in the Duck’s penultimate game Wednesday — any sort of emotional displays during the final game might indicate that he plans to retire.
If he does, no one would blame him, he’s had a long and successful career, perhaps the most successful of any U.S.-born goaltender.
Miller tied John Vanbiesbrouck for the most wins by an American-born goaltender Dec. 2 with victory No. 374. He’s now extended that mark to 377 wins.
Besides his win record, Miller also won a Vezina Trophy in 2010, the same season he won a silver medal and an MVP award at the Vancouver Olympics. Going back to his college career, he won the Hobey Baker Award in 2001, given to the best NCAA men’s hockey player in the nation.
To say he’s had a successful career would be an understatement, but there are a few huge reasons that Miller would want to keep playing.
Motivation to Move on From Anaheim
If Miller decides to continue his career, he has some significant motivators to move on from the Ducks.
The most glaring hole in his resume is the absence of a Stanley Cup title. In fact, Miller has never even played in a Stanley Cup Final series; the Buffalo Sabres came within a game of the final in 2006, but that’s as close as Miller got.
Unfortunately for Miller, it doesn’t look like the Ducks will contend for a Stanley Cup soon; they’ll be lucky if they even make the playoffs in the next couple seasons. If Miller wants a chance to win a Cup, he will need to leave Anaheim.
Miller will be 39 at the start of the 2019-20 season, not young for an NHL player by any standards, but he looks like he’s got some hockey left in him. If he signs elsewhere, Miller’s best bet to win would be backing up a winning team with a young starter who needs a competent backup, much like the situation that used to exist in Anaheim.
The Calgary Flames could be a good option in theory.If David Rittich plays well in the playoffs, the Flames could let go of Mike Smith who is a free agent after this season and has been underwhelming. What better an insurance policy behind Rittich than Miller. Even if they were to sign Miller at his current $2 million price tag, that’s more than $2 million in savings compared to Smith’s $4.25 million cap hit.
The question is not only whether Miller would want to join a winning team but move to a colder climate for a season. Not to mention Miller has a wife and young child, so playing in the Western Conference would make for an attractive location.
Miller’s Hall of Fame Motivations
Miller currently has a borderline case to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. Four hundred wins is generally one line of demarcation for goalies that are strong versus borderline candidates to make the Hall of Fame. Miller is approaching 400 wins at 377 but is running out of time and Hall of Fame credentials for goalies can be difficult to discern.
Only one Hall of Fame goalie who played in the 1990s and 2000s has less than 400 wins, and that’s Dominik Hasek at 389. There are only two goalies with more than 400 wins who are not in the Hall of Fame, Chris Osgood at 401 wins and Curtis Joseph at 454 wins.
The 400-win mark is attainable for Miller, but as a backup, reaching that number might be difficult unless he joins a winning team. As a backup this season, Miller is 7-7, while both Flames goalies — who share the starting role—have more than 20 wins each.
Miller has some major motivations to not only continue his career but sign with an NHL team that can contend for a Cup.
Miller at Home in Anaheim
To the outsider, the chance to compete for a Stanley Cup would be enough to sign with another team. However, Miller has just as many reasons to stay in Anaheim if he wants to continue to play. He and his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, have a young son and DeWulf’s job makes living near Hollywood a priority. It will be difficult for Miller and his family to see each other if he signs with any other team besides the Los Angeles Kings, who are also a long way from contention.
Even with Miller playing for the Ducks, the family must rent an apartment in Newport Beach, closer to the Honda Center while also owning a residence West Hollywood so DeWulf can stay closer to Tinseltown. As Josh Cooper discovered in his interview with Miller for The Athletic, the distance between Hollywood and Anaheim can even be too far sometimes.
“It was, ‘What’s the point of everyone driving down so I could see them for two hours?’ Just that kind of thing. You’re like an hour or an hour-and-a-half away and you can’t make it happen,” he said.(from ‘Ryan Miller on the life of a dad who also plays professional hockey’ – The Athletic – 8/13/18).
Not to mention Miller seems to enjoy engaging with the celebrity culture in Southern California. Just check out his mock-tweet battle from last spring with Chrissy Teigen.
That doesn’t happen in Buffalo or Calgary.
When you boil it all down, Miller has more hockey left to play, but when it comes to where he’s going to play, the decision is much harder. Does he sacrifice family life to pursue a championship and solidify his Hockey Hall of Fame chances? Does he stay in Anaheim for the love of his family and the love of the game? We will have to wait and see.