Ryan Miller seems destined to finish out his three-year, $18 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. With the cap unlikely to increase in the 2016-17 season, many teams will be unwilling to take on such an onerous salary.
What gets lost in the conversation about trading Miller and his contract, is that he actually played pretty well last season. Miller, along with Jacob Markstrom, provided a strong backbone for the Canucks, who gave up more scoring chances than all teams except Colorado during the regular season.
In Miller’s first season in Vancouver, he didn’t play poorly, but his performance was overshadowed by a mid-season injury and a stellar performance from Eddie Lack in relief.
The Canucks rebounded from their disastrous season under John Tortorella to finish eighth overall in the NHL. Miller admitted that he believed the Canucks were a team capable of such a feat during his press conference on July 1st, 2014.
“I think it’s a great fit for the way the team is built towards winning,” said Miller during the press conference. “From the top down they have the right attitude in place. They’ve identified how they want to do it and that’s by working together, communicating well, and I think it’s going to be exciting to play hockey here.”
Two years later, it’s anyone’s guess if Miller feels the same way. The team plummeted down the standings to a 28th overall finish, and the future doesn’t look much brighter for the 2016-17 season.
At 36-years-old, no one would criticize Miller for wanting an opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup contender. His contract would be a hassle to move, but there are a couple of possible suitors who could use his services.
Two playoff teams from this season who should be contending for the foreseeable future might be the only logical fits for Miller.
Miller Joins the Dallas Stars
It probably seems like an odd fit, since the Stars have both of their goalies – Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi – signed through the 2017-18 season. The Stars were also one of the best teams in the regular season.
However, no one is crediting the Stars’ success to their goaltending. Of 42 NHL goaltenders who played more than 30 games this season, Lehtonen and Niemi ranked 37th and 39th respectively in save percentage.
Kari Lehtonen shaving points in the 3rd? What was this? pic.twitter.com/zy1peiOTI2
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 24, 2016
The Stars were a bottom five team in terms of goals against at even-strength. It’s hard to put that blame on the defence since the Stars were in the top half of the league in terms of shots against at five-on-five.
Miller has shown in his past two seasons with the Canucks that he can still be a serviceable netminder when he isn’t overplayed. That isn’t likely to happen with Niemi or Lehtonen sharing the crease. Miller’s deal also expires before either contract belonging to Dallas’ Finnish goalies.
The roadblock here is that the Stars would have to trade one of their goalies – both with unfavourable cap hits – in order to acquire Miller. Maybe the rare three-team trade would have to happen in order to facilitate this year.
The common denominator here is Calgary. General manager Brad Treliving has dealt with both Jim Benning and Jim Nill recently. If Miller goes to Dallas, maybe Niemi or Lehtonen becomes the answer in Calgary. The Flames desperately need some goaltending after last season’s fiasco, coupled with the departure of Jonas Hiller to Switzerland.
If it doesn’t work out? At least Miller is off the books at the end of next season, when Jaime Benn becomes an unrestricted free agent. The same can’t be said about Niemi or Lehtonen.
Like a scout said, when they're both playing well, I'll take Lehtonen. When both are struggling, give me Niemi.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) April 24, 2016
Before the playoffs begun, my colleague Jordan Dix argued about whether Lehtonen or Niemi should start game one. After six playoff games for the Stars, can you really argue that either one is the superior option?
Miller Migrates South to Anaheim
Another option that might make you scratch your head, but really there’s no easy answer when speculating where Miller could end up.
There is a scenario where Miller could join Anaheim, and it really depends on what the Ducks decide to do with Frederik Andersen in the offseason. If Andersen carries the Ducks on a long playoff run, it becomes likely that the young Swedish netminder remains in Anaheim.
Frederik Andersen making Boudreau look foolish for starting Gibson the first two games.
— Felix Sicard (@Felix_Sicard) April 22, 2016
However, if Andersen and the Ducks bow out against Nashville or early in round two, it becomes less likely that Andersen sticks around. John Gibson is clearly the goalie of the future, which leaves Andersen’s outlook in limbo.
If Gibson really is the goalie of the future in Anaheim, could he have a better role model than Ryan Miller?
Ryan Miller is third all win in wins among American goaltenders and is the active leader in that category. He has represented his country at the Olympics and brought the U.S. within a sniff of the gold medal in 2010.
When his contract expires next season, Miller will be 37-years-old. Would he be happy in a backup role behind Gibson? It’s impossible to know, but Miller could be a part of a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
It’s hard to imagine Anaheim parting with any valuable assets for Miller considering his age and salary. Maybe they unload one of their defencemen to ease the logjam they have on the blueline.
Like before, could a three-way trade make sense? Calgary would be foolish not to chase Andersen in the off-season, and acquiring him in a trade might be savvier than losing draft picks by signing him to an offer sheet.
Does He Really Want to Leave?
Everyone assumes that Miller wants to pull a Ryan Kesler and jump ship since the team isn’t performing well. Like any competitive athlete, he probably wants a chance at winning before his career is finished.
However, people forget that he signed with the Canucks right after the imploded en route to a 25th overall finish. Miller played well down the stretch and maybe he believes that with a few adjustments, the Canucks can compete next season.
It’s probably a stretch because anyone with intermediate hockey knowledge can see that the Canucks have a huge uphill battle next season. Their mediocre blueline will remain green next season, hindering the Canucks chances of fighting for a playoff spot.
Here’s what Miller said in his introductory press conference almost two years ago.
“I like to think that this team can get their mojo back, get a good attitude and push forward.”
I wonder if he still feels the same way now.