Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill is not a firm believer in kicking off the weekend early.
While most were just putting their feet up and cracking open a beverage on the deck, Botterill was putting the finishing touches on his first big move since the season ended.
The Sabres acquired Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights for a second-round pick in the 2021 draft (from St. Louis) and a fifth-round pick in the 2022 draft.
On a number of levels, this trade is a major win for the Sabres.
Who Is Colin Miller?
Drafted 151st overall in the 2012 draft, Miller began his NHL career in 2015 with the Boston Bruins. He has since played 250 games and accumulated 99 points, good for an average of over 32 points per 82 game schedule.
Before being drafted, Miller played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. In his final season, he served as captain. His junior career ended with him scoring 105 points in 174 games.
In acquiring Miller, the Sabres are not looking for someone who will light the lamp and break records a la Bobby Orr. Miller’s game is sound defensively, using all of his six-foot-one, 196-pound frame to bang bodies, break up plays in the defensive zone and drive the puck up the ice.
Miller’s On-Ice Impact
Miller has quietly built up some nice analytical numbers during his first 250 NHL games.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Miller was a positive possession player on a team the finished third in Corsi-For Percentage. Relative to the rest of his teammates, Miller himself finished with a Relative Corsi-For Percentage of 2.29, meaning that while he was on the ice his team controlled 2.29 percent more shots towards the net than when his average teammate was on the ice.
When looking at high-danger Corsi for percentage (HDCF%), the Sabres finished last season 19th in the NHL controlling just 48.51 percent of all shots directed at the net from high-danger areas.
This is one area where the Sabres will notice Miller’s impact. Relative to the rest of his teammates, he had an HDCF% of 5.15 and a High-Danger-Goals-For Percentage of 4.34. When the puck is in these dangerous areas of the ice, Miller is able to control it and limit the chances that come against his team.
Looking at comparable contracts on CapFriendly, Miller has a 93 percent match to Anaheim Ducks defenceman Josh Manson. Josh Manson is widely regarded as a solid NHL defenceman. How do the two compare looking deeper into their numbers?
Evolving-Hockey has their evermore popular Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) charts that can be a useful tool to get a scope of a players individual impact on the ice.
Comparing Miller and Manson draws an interesting picture. Miller ranks higher than Manson in every category except for Offensive Goals-For (Off_GF). This chart illustrates Miller’s tremendous impact on every inch of the ice surface. The chart also shows a prodigious opportunity for growth given the disparity between his Off_GF and his expected Off_GF. If the goals are able to more closely match the chances he is creating, he could be in line for a very nice offensive season.
Miller’s Fit With the Sabres
Miller is added to a stable of right-handed NHL defencemen on the Sabres’ roster. In addition to Miller, the Sabres also have Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Brandon Montour and Casey Nelson.
The fit for Miller on the Sabres can be summed up like this: wherever you are, at five-on-five just play the man! While his power play impacts may not be overly impressive, Miller can help you win games in the trenches where it matters most.
The right spot for Miller feels like the second pair, garnering 15-20 minutes each night along with Lawrence Pilut or Jake McCabe. An argument could be made to try him with Rasmus Dahlin, however.
After Montour arrived last season, he was paired on the highly-coveted right side of Dahlin. Both Montour and Dahlin like to rush the puck, though, and their similar styles may not be the best fit going forward.
Dahlin is a thoroughbred and while he is already a stout defender, he can be best-utilized when he has the freedom to move about the zone and use his keen offensive instincts to fly the puck up-ice or get in position to feed his streaking teammates. Miller could provide the stability needed to fully unleash Dahlin while also having the ability to outlet the puck himself. Can he handle the extra minutes? That remains to be seen.
A Solid Addition for the Organization
After seeing all of Miller’s positive impacts, the part that might be the most impressive is the price.
First, the price to acquire. The picks that the Sabres sent translate to boys that are currently in grades nine and 10. No one off the already paper-thin roster needed to move due to the Golden Knights’ current salary cap situation. For a team desperate to win now, the price is right.
Secondly, the price to keep. Miller carries a salary of $3.875 million for the next three seasons. Having Miller for his age 27, 28 and 29 seasons means that Buffalo will have him at his prime at a very reasonable cap-hit. The Sabres are a less than ideal destination for most players at this time and have a hard time getting players with term to stay at a reasonable cap number. See Jeff Skinner.
Having another right-shot defenceman means that someone has to go. Arguably the Sabres’ most valuable trade chip is Ristolainen. While he should be moved even without the procurement of Miller, this all but guarantees that Ristolainen will not be back with the Sabres next season. Ristolainen can now be moved for an impact top-six forward and hopefully build toward some semblance of an NHL lineup.
Finally, this move is a real feather in the cap for Botterill. Although he has made some solid moves bringing in Skinner and Montour, he has been grilled for the terrible trade of Ryan O’Reilly. Using a pick acquired in that trade to bring in a stud defender can help to limit the scrutiny. While the O’Reilly trade should never be considered a success, this may help to at least rebuild some credibility with the fanbase.
The Miller trade kicks off what could be an exciting few days. With free agency less than 48 hours away and moves now needing to be made to the Sabres’ roster, we got a pretty significant blast of air in the collective tires of deflated Sabres fans. Now it’s time to keep the tires rolling.