When the Vancouver Canucks signed Ryan Miller back in July 2014, it was surely a move that was expected to make the club competitive. But things didn’t work out that way. Miller was solid for the Canucks, save for an injury-riddled 2014-15 season, but the team only made one playoff appearance during his three years in Vancouver. Now Miller is soon to turn 37 years old and is running out of opportunities to win the first Stanley Cup of his career.
Is he still good enough to take a team to that level? Or is Miller going to have to switch gears and take on more of a depth, mentorship role with a contending team?
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How good is he?
There was a time that Ryan Miller was the best goalie in hockey. Back in 2010, Miller won the Vezina Trophy will the Buffalo Sabres after posting a 0.929 save percentage. He also rose to fame with a ridiculous performance at the Vancouver Olympics that same year, damn near singlehandedly carrying the United States to an overtime loss in the Gold Medal game to Team Canada.
But those days are gone. Miller is going to be 37 years old this summer. He isn’t the dominant, game-changing talent he used to be, but he’s certainly still a serviceable goaltender in the NHL with upside that can play very well for extended periods of time. We certainly saw that this year when he willed the listless Canucks up the standings before the team crashed back down to earth after the trade deadline. In the past two seasons on mediocre Canucks teams, Miller has split the net with Jacob Markstrom, posting a 0.914 and 0.916 save percentage in all situations. Very, very solid numbers. Nothing world beating, sure, but good nonetheless.
That’s probably the role he’s best suited for. Miller hasn’t played more than 60 games in a season since 2011-12, and realistically should be in a similar role to Roberto Luongo in Florida, where he shares the net with a younger, 1B goalie because he isn’t physically capable of carrying the elite starter workload anymore.
How much is he going to cost?
As you can see in the SAVE chart above, Miller’s stats over the past three seasons are pretty much on par with the league-average goaltender, which is somebody who’s paid $2-$3 million annually depending on the context in which their contract was signed.
He’s currently coming off of a three-year deal that paid him $18,000,000, or $6,000,000 annually. Before that, he inked a five-year, $31,250,000 contract with the Sabres. It’s pretty obvious that he isn’t going to be paid like that again, both in regards to term and annual salary. But at this stage in Miller’s career, you have to assume he’ll be looking either to play somewhere he likes, or somewhere he can win his first Stanley Cup. With that in mind, we’ll likely see Miller take less than what he could probably make elsewhere in order to fulfill one (or both) of those desires.
Can the Canucks afford it?
For as bad as their roster is, the Canucks don’t have an enviable cap situation. They currently have roughly $55 million tied up nine forwards, six defencemen, and one goalie, and still need to figure out contracts for a bunch of RFAs, like Erik Gudbranson, Nikita Tryamkin, and Bo Horvat.
I mean, it isn’t going to be difficult to fit all of those guys in, or anything, but it’s hard to say if the Canucks will want to spend their free cap room on Miller, especially after they handed out a three-year extension worth $3,666,667 annually to Markstrom back in July. It makes some sense, given that Miller seems to be happy in Vancouver, is familiar with the team and city, and the Canucks may want some insulation before handing Markstrom the keys to the net. The team opted not to move the soon-to-be free agent at the trade deadline, which could indicate that they’re interested in keeping him around, but nothing is a given.
If he hits the open market…
I mentioned this when I wrote about Ben Bishop heading into free agency, but it appears the market for goaltenders this summer is going to be quite thin.
The Ducks, Coyotes, Bruins, Blackhawks, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Oilers, Panthers, Kings, Wild, Canadiens, Predators, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Sharks, Blues, Lightning, Maple Leafs, and Capitals all appear to be either set in goal with what they have or have big money already committed between the pipes.
The Flames could be in the market for a starting goalie, but they could also just re-sign Brian Elliott and/or Chad Johnson. The Hurricanes have Cam Ward signed for another year, plausibly to stealthily help them tank, and have top prospect Alex Nedeljkovic waiting in the wings. The Jets badly need a consistent goalie, and have needed one for years. They have a carousel of young goalies, Michael Hutchinson, Connor Hellebuyck, and Eric Comrie, but could be in the market for a veteran to help lead the way. I mentioned them in my set list above, but if the Ducks let Jonathan Bernier walk this summer, Miller could make sense in a 1A/1B tandem with John Gibson.
There really aren’t very many options out there, because you have to assume that one of those holes is going to be filled by Ben Bishop, who seems to be this summer’s goalie market headliner. Somebody is going to be interested, it’s just difficult to say who, and in what role.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 11, 2017
Ryan Miller came into Vancouver likely looking to help make the Canucks a contender. It wasn’t hit fault, but it didn’t happen. The team made the playoffs in 2014-15, but has since spun into oblivion, and now appears to be on the cusp of some kind of rebuild.
At 37 years of age, it’s hard to say if Miller wants to kick around on a non-competitive team like the Canucks, and even if he did re-sign with Vancouver, it would be to share the net with Jacob Markstrom. That said, based on the situations of the other teams around the league, if Miller wants a stab at his first Stanley Cup, it’s going to likely come in a similar role to the one Roberto Luongo has in Florida.