During the Canuck’s offseason, fans all but begged for radical changes throughout the organization, and mercifully they got what they wanted. But along with those changes came the unexpected, the signing of Ryan Miller to play goal, the one area of the team the fans were happy with.
Eddie Lack had done an admirable job in blocking out the swirling controversy the goalie fiasco created, all the while performing at a high level. Former GM Gillis had taken the crease issue to lofty and absurd new heights, but left behind an arrangement fans were content with going into the new season. The end of the ongoing puckstopping saga was in sight, Lack and Markstrom appeared to be the tandem for the foreseeable future.
Then Ryan Miller was brought in seemingly from out of nowhere. Sure, new GM Jim Benning had a history with Miller from drafting him in Buffalo, but very few people would have predicted this. Vancouver’s needs were scoring help up front, and trying to bolster the defence.
So were we about to see another debacle that would haunt the Canucks for all eternity? No, not this time, because despite what I’m sure had to be mild disappointment within Eddie Lack initially, this signing will do nothing but boost his career.
Why sign Miller at all?
Well for one thing, Miller is a terrific goalie, and despite the admiration we all have for Lack, he’s an upgrade to the goaltending position. Miller may not be the consensus No.1 goalie in the league, but he was clearly the best available in the Summer.
Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie only a few years ago in 2010, a fact that many people tend to forget. However, they do tend to remember his heroics in the Olympics that year, leading USA to a silver medal while all Canadian hockey fans held their breath.
He was also named the MVP of that same tournament, apparently impressing the rest of the world as well. In addition, he’s won 30 games in every year he’s been a starter in the NHL, with the exception of his last two. That includes a final year and a half on a Buffalo team that couldn’t win if they were armed with Tazers, so it would be unrealistic to blame Miller for the team’s folly.
With that kind of resume, it’s hard to fault Vancouver signing him when they place such high value on veteran leadership in goal.
That mindset is in direct connection with the strategy the team employed in the offseason, when Benning and the Canucks revealed that they intend to re-construct the team with youth and talent and yet still be competitive, avoiding a few seasons mired in the morass at the bottom of the league.
With that in mind, goaltending will be relied upon a great deal, possibly more than it ever has before, so getting Miller was a huge acquisition.
“It’s a new start for me, but it’s a continuation of my career,”-Ryan Miller
This in no way should lead fans to assume that the organization doesn’t have faith in Lack. They seem to feel, as many do, that Lack will be a solid starting goalie in this league. But they also seem to feel that he may be a year or two away, and that he could benefit greatly from not having to carry the team during that critical development period.
And although the masses seem to adore Lack, most fans begrudgingly agree with this evaluation, and it was probably only due to Lack’s immense likeability that they didn’t vocalize it more vehemently.
The On Ice Effects
Miller’s credentials are well documented, and he’s had the benefit of playing a lot of NHL hockey. Miller can flat out play, and his abilities are significant enough to lead the Canucks to more wins than they could have obtained with Lack starting in net. And he won’t have to deal with nearly as much rubber in Rogers Arena, Buffalo gave up almost 6 more shots a game than Vancouver last year, and that adds up over the long haul.
That should thrill fans to no end, because every win will be critical this year as both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference are abundant in talent.
Besides affecting the team’s placement in the standings, Miller will be a great mentor to Lack and has much he can teach the future star.
Lack is an intelligent person and will be able to learn a lot just from watching Miller play, but the impact of working with Miller daily reaches beyond that. Being the recipient of a wealth of experience and knowledge gathered throughout a successful career like Miller’s has limitless implications for Lack, and will undoubtedly make him a better goalie.
And then there is the workload I eluded to earlier that Miller will assume. Despite Lack wanting to play the majority of the games as a starter, having Miller around to take the bulk of the work and responsibility for another year, especially in this season of transition, allows Lack luxuries he didn’t anticipate.
Miller will be absorbing most of the pressure, leaving Lack time to develop the mental strength and agility needed to play the most important position in hockey.
And with Lack playing an expected 25-30 games, he’ll have plenty of work to develop the on-ice skills that will be critical to succeeding in a starting role.
The Off Ice Intangibles
But the rewards Miller bestows upon Lack aren’t limited to the ice surface, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. There is another major benefit to reap from this partnership that most people aren’t considering.
Miller is going to make Lack a lot of money.
In 2016-2017, Miller’s last contract year, Eddie Lack is an unrestricted free agent. That will give Lack 2 years to sharpen his game to the point where he is an undisputed NHL starting goalie, and as a result, open up a lot of opportunities for himself.
Most certainly, a raise will take place and he will earn a lot more than the $1.15 million dollars he lines his mattress with now. Given his current abilities, and the fact that in a backup role he won’t be facing the top teams constantly, he is positioned to put up some big numbers over the next couple years, so that raise could be a hefty one.
He’ll play 2 years and roughly 60 games, where the bulk of the competition he will face will be the lesser half of the league. Even though the Canucks may not be poised for 60 win seasons, the potential numbers Eddie could put up will have his financial planners weeping openly with joy.
The Canucks and every team in the league will have to take notice, and then a multitude of scenarios unfold.
I expect Miller to have impressive seasons, so trading him could be an option to make Lack the starter, benefitting both the Canucks and Lack.
Or they could move Lack, who could easily be more attractive to other teams at that point, and bring higher calibre players in return. This becomes even more enticing if Markstrom develops the way the Canucks hope while in Utica, and Thatcher Demko evolves into his elite projections.
Given the ages of the Miller/Lack combo, it’s even possible that both are re-signed and essentially switch roles, with Lack getting the starting duties. A less likely outcome for a few reasons, not the least of which is the talent the Canucks could add by moving one of them.
However it unfolds, one way or another Lack will be the starting goaltender on an NHL team in the near future, and he’ll be making a lot more money when it happens.
So put to rest any concerns you might have of another goaltending controversy erupting through the pavement at Griffiths Way. Clearly the Canucks are going to benefit both on the ice and down the road as a result of Ryan Miller pulling on a Vancouver jersey, but two seasons from now the biggest winner will be Eddie Lack.
Darrin Hayes is a regular contributor for the Vancouver Canucks on TheHockeyWriters.com. Follow Darrin on Twitter @HayesTHW or on Facebook via TheHockeyWriters fan page.