Immortality in the hockey world comes in many forms. Whether it be a game-defining moment in the Stanley Cup Final, a career stat line that leaves no room for argument, or when a player is the face of a franchise and sets the standard for greatness. Ryan Miller was that type of player for the Buffalo Sabres. From his iconic Buffalo head helmet donning the famous expression “It’s Miller Time,” to his incredible saves in pressure situations, he was the backstop to some of the Sabres’ best seasons.
This past Friday, it was announced that the Buffalo Sabres would be inducting Miller into their team Hall of Fame, and that they would be retiring his No. 30 to the rafters. It is only fitting for his number to sit next to one of the other greatest goaltenders in Sabres history, Dominik Hasek. Hasek had his jersey retired by the Sabres in 2015. While in college, Miller wore No. 39, but when he made his way onto the Buffalo roster, he decided that even though he had worn that number his entire life, it wouldn’t be right for him to wear it out of respect for Hasek. This is the type of class he showed over all his years in Buffalo, and he deserves this honor for the record-setting career he gave to the Sabres.
Miller made his way to Buffalo for the announcement, and shared a touching moment inside KeyBank Center with some fans, general manager Kevyn Adams, coach Don Granato, and newly retired Sabres’ play-by-play Rick Jeanneret.
Miller’s Vezina Trophy-Winning Season
In the 2009-10 season, Ryan Miller put on a full-blown goaltending clinic. He dragged an average Sabres team to a division championship and secured a playoff spot for them in a season where they had no business being there. His numbers were so good compared to his career average that he had a runaway victory for the Vezina Trophy that year.
Miller put up a stunning 41 wins combined with a 2.22 goals-against average (GAA), and an amazing .929 save percentage (SV%). All of these stat lines are his career highs. Ultimately, he was the difference between the Sabres having a sub-par season as a bubble team, or being a top-ranked team in the Eastern Conference. Despite his best efforts, the Sabres were eliminated in six games in the playoffs as the goalscoring support he needed all season failed to show up.
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To cap off his best season was another highlight of his career, as he made the 2010 Olympic team for the USA. In a year where he was clearly the best goaltender in the world, it made perfect sense to pick him.
Miller’s Olympic Domination
The 2010 Olympics were held in Vancouver, where a stacked Team Canada had clear home advantage. Team USA knew this and put together an amazing roster designed to wear down opponents, and counteract speed and skill. Miller was chosen as the starter for these games due to his amazing stats in the NHL regular season, and he did not disappoint.
Breaking any Olympic record is nothing to be scoffed at, even if it is only for the country that the player was on. Miller did exactly this when he finished the tournament with a staggering 1.35 GAA and .946 SV%. The only stain on this incredible run was the overtime loss in the gold medal game. Miller kept his American teammates in every game, and had a perfect record up to that point. Fate is not without a sense of cruelty, as Canada’s Sidney Crosby netted the game-winner, thus denying Miller the dream of winning it all.
Throughout the tournament, Miller was the picture of what it meant to be “locked in.” His focus and determination were unrivaled all season, and the saves he made along the way showed the talent he really had in his prime.
NHL and Sabres Records Held by Ryan Miller
Holding any team or league record is impressive, regardless of how obscure or specific it may be. In Miller’s case, he holds the NHL record for most wins by an American goaltender at 391. While it was just shy of a round 400, being the best among all American-born goalies is one of his best achievements. Beating out legendary goalies like Mike Richter and Tom Barrasso, he stands alone at the top with the next closest active NHL goaltender being his former Olympic teammate Jonathan Quick at 359 wins.
Another NHL record Miller holds might not be as well known; he set the record for most shootout wins in a season with 10. While this stat is entirely based on the luck of the draw for how many shootouts a team makes it to in that year, winning 10 shows how clutch Miller was in 1-on-1 situations. Sabres fans could have confidence on breakaways, and in shootouts, that he could steal them a win with his foot quickness and glove speed.
In regards to his Sabres franchise records, they speak volumes to his time and dedication to the team. Miller leads the Sabres in goalie games played (540), wins (284), games played in a single season (76), and most wins in a single season (41). Miller’s consistency and reliability throughout his career is what brought him success, and the Buffalo faithful still hold him in the highest esteem for it.
Miller’s Sabres Legacy
Many Sabres goaltenders have made some incredible saves over the course of their career, with some of them being iconic franchise moments thanks to the legendary voice of Jeanneret. Hearing him call out “MILLERRRRRRRR…” before adding the final commentary was a staple for any big saves by the goaltender. Miller was the stability any franchise would want out of a starting netminder, and he gave that to the Sabres for nine of his 11 seasons.
For years he was a team leader in times of struggle and never failed to take the blame for any mistakes made. Post-game interviews with him showed his passion for winning games and that he held himself to a very high standard. His compete level was higher than anyone on the Sabres’ roster for many years. Playing on a Sabres team with a core featuring the likes of Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Brian Campbell, Derek Roy, and so many other key players, Miller was the one who shined above them all.
The glory may normally lie with the ones who score the biggest goals, but Miller was the backstop to those same wins. He was always humble and made it clear that Buffalo was his home. The city, the fans, and the atmosphere around the team was something for him to get wrapped up in. As soon as he was traded away to the St. Louis Blues in the first step of the rebuild process, Sabres fans referred to Miller as the standard for goaltender play. Besides Hasek, he is the face of what it means to play between the pipes for the Sabres.
There is nobody more deserving of this honor, and come the 2022-23 season, Miller will have his name and number memorialized in the rafters of KeyBank Center. As Jeanneret said in the tribute upon his return the other day, all Sabres fans have only one thing to say to Miller: “Welcome back… and welcome home.”