Under-performing. That’s the word that could sum up Ryan Miller’s play thus far in the 2015-16 season… and really for his entire one and a half year tenure as the Canucks goaltender. Ryan Miller returned to the Canucks lineup for the first time since December 20th, 2015. He’d missed six games with a groin injury. He’d even sidelined himself a few times this year due to general soreness as well. Not a good sign that his health is where it needs to be.
It’s surprising that the Canucks elected to go with Miller against the Capitals after Jacob Markstrom has gone 5-3 in his last eight starts. In those eight games he’s posted a .930 save percentage and has surrendered just 18 goals (2.25 GAA). Those are impressive statistics. Especially for a Canucks squad that has struggled immensely in their own end. The Canucks defensive game is like hearing nails on a chalk board.
On the contrary Miller’s stats have been pretty gruesome as of late. In this instance late can encompass his last year and a half. When he made his first start since before Christmas (against the Washington Capitals) on Thursday night he was coming off a stretch of 18 games played where he’d won just six times. In addition to a 6-12 record he’d conceded 54 goals against during that time and had collected a .902 save percentage since November 1st, 2015. Phew. It’s not pretty in Miller’s corner right now.
Well, redemption wasn’t in the cards for Miller as he faced another shelling and subsequently another failure. To be fair Miller had to face 39 shots against one of the most explosive forward groups in the NHL, and he did a decent job by stopping 36 of 39. But Once again Miller wasn’t able to make the big saves when he needed to. In fact when Karl Alzner netted the Capitals second goal of the game Miller was visibly frustrated at his own players, but had only himself to blame for not making a stop on a slapshot from the point with no traffic in front.
Six Million Dollar Man Is Facing Extinction
Once again Vancouver has stumbled upon a goalie controversy. But for the first time since Luongo arrived in Vancouver in 2006 the logical response is as clear as can be. Oddly enough the team seems to be going in the opposite direction of logic…again. When the team vouched for Cory Schneider over Luongo… it made sense. When the team traded Schneider in favor of Luongo…it made sense. When Eddie Lack dethroned Luongo it was surprising but… it made sense. It wasn’t until Jim Benning signed the then 34-year-old Ryan Miller to a three year-$18 million contract that it began to be ridiculous…especially with Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom in the mix with Thatcher Demko a ways down the timeline. Now of course some fans and analysts would argue that Eddie Lack was never starting material and they’d reference his current struggles with Carolina. However it could be argued that both amount of playing time and locale play a significant role in the morale of a player. Perhaps Lack lost touch with himself being sent to one of the NHL’s worst followed markets.
But that’s history and now the Canucks are now stuck with a $6 million cap hit from Miller until the end of the 2016-17 season and without a miracle it seems like Miller’s play will continue to decline. That being the case it doesn’t make much sense to keep Miller in many games. Just because the management made a massive mistake by handing an over-the-hill goalie close to $20 million doesn’t mean you have to play him. In fact it might give Benning, Linden and the rest of the management crew some brownie points if they ate crow and dressed Miller as a back up for the remainder of the season.
If the team is focusing on the future and the youth in the organization than Markstrom is the place holder between Luongo and Demko (if he turns out to be as promising as he seems).
Miller Returned, Canucks Need To Maintain Desperation
The Pacific Division standings can be a bit misleading. The Canucks are currently only one point out of a wild card position and tied with San Jose for the third Pacific Division seed. Meanwhile the only teams in the NHL with less wins than the Canucks (17) are Toronto (16) and Columbus (16). So parity could be playing a role here. But it could also be that the Pacific Division is so weak that a team like the Canucks will have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs despite one of the franchise’s worst seasons in over a decade.
So maybe having Miller in net is a good thing. The Canucks haven’t been given much comfort by their goaltenders this year (besides Markstrom’s recent eight game stretch) and maybe that’s a good thing. Without the pleasure of knowing that your goaltender has it covered the players might be more inclined to play a systematic game…which with the current Canucks roster is the only way to stay competitive.
So really Miller’s return is kind of a big deal.
"I'm excited to get back in and battle. We're all going to need to be good tomorrow."https://t.co/ItNt4RBdHn
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 13, 2016
It may not seem like it but having Miller back between the pipes is a big moment for the Canucks. The team has gotten to roster a lineup that really showcases some of their future stars in the last little stretch of games. Markstrom’s time in net has proven productive for both he individually and the Canucks as a team.
When Miller returned against the league leading Washington Capitals on Thursday night it had a simple effect on the hockey world, it proved that he can no longer compete in the NHL… at least not in Vancouver. Miller was never meant for the Pacific Division and the longer the Canucks try to force the situation the more uncomfortable it’s going to feel.