Goalie Miller could be run­ning out of time in Van­cou­ver

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SPORTS - Iain MacIn­tyre imac­in­tyre@ post­media. com Twit­ter. com/ imac­van­sun

• Jim Ben­ning signed Ryan Miller be­cause he felt he owed his vet­eran team an ex­pe­ri­enced, topflight goal­tender, and Miller came to Van­cou­ver on the gen­eral man­ager’s prom­ise the Canucks would do what they could to win soon.

Two years into Miller’s three- year, $ 18- mil­lion US con­tract, it’s not quite work­ing out as ei­ther ex­pected.

The Canucks were eight points out in the play­off race be­fore the Colorado Avalanche, which holds the fi­nal wild- card spot in the Western Con­fer­ence de­spite los­ing 5-1 in Van­cou­ver on Sun­day, played the San Jose Sharks on Wed­nes­day night.

The Canucks play the Ottawa Sen­a­tors Thurs­day at Rogers Arena.

Van­cou­ver re­mains stuck half­way be­tween the fi­nal play­off spot and last place over­all. Alas, with the draft lot­tery in sight, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers have stepped down their game in the drive for top prospect Aus­ton Matthews.

This be­ing Van­cou­ver, where the trade of a mi­nor­league prospect eclipsed by oth­ers since his draft day causes wide­spread hys­te­ria, Ben­ning may or may not have an­other cou­ple of sea­sons to get his team back up to the top third in the Na­tional Hockey League stand­ings.

But we’re pretty sure Miller, who turns 36 in July, hasn’t the time to wait.

And yet, there is no ev­i­dence yet that Ben­ning is will­ing to trade Miller be­fore Mon­day’s NHL deal­ing dead­line, nor is there much de­sire from the Amer­i­can Olympian to leave Van­cou­ver for a bet­ter chance to win.

“I hon­estly try not to think about it too much,” Miller said of the trade dead­line. “There’s a job I have to do and wor­ry­ing about that other stuff tends to get in the way. I haven’t thought about it that much be­cause I haven’t had a con­ver­sa­tion with Jim on that level. I’m in a po­si­tion to get in­for­ma­tion if I need it. It hasn’t been of­fered and I don’t feel I need it.

“Cer­tainly, when I came in (be­fore last sea­son) it was a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent land­scape, the way we’ve gone from vet­eran to younger play­ers. When I talked with man­age­ment about com­ing here, they were keen on get­ting the pieces in place to win, and I just have to be­lieve that’s what their mind­set is.”

Miller’s con­tract in­cludes a lim­ited no- trade clause. Ben­ning hasn’t asked the goalie for a trade list, and Miller cer­tainly isn’t go­ing to vol­un­teer one.

There are a few teams plan­ning on chal­leng­ing for the Stan­ley Cup this spring that Miller would help. The San Jose Sharks top the list. Of course, ab­sorb­ing Miller’s $ 6- mil­lion cap hit would be an is­sue for most teams.

The only time Miller was traded in his 14- year ca­reer, from Buf­falo to St. Louis two years ago at the dead­line, it was a disas­ter. Miller won only 12 of 25 starts for the Blues, strug­gled in the play­offs and was ush­ered into free agency by St. Louis.

“I got a chance at it in St. Louis in this kind of sit­u­a­tion and, hon­estly, it was a lot more dif­fi­cult that I ever thought it would be,” Miller said. “You come into some­body else’s sit­u­a­tion and try to learn ev­ery­thing on the fly. You want to be read­ing the game and be com­fort­able with ev­ery­thing be­fore you hit the play­offs. It was kind of a lot at once. I’m not sure it would be the right thing to do again.”

The Canucks have been more dis­ap­point­ing than Miller this sea­son.

Af­ter a solid first year with the Canucks was un­der­mined by a se­ri­ous knee in­jury last Fe­bru­ary, Miller has been bet­ter this sea­son. But the team in front of him has been worse.

Miller’s save rate is up to .917, from .911, but his wins, like the Canucks’, are way down.

Af­ter go­ing 29-15-1 in 45 starts last sea­son, Miller is 13-17- 8 in 39 ap­pear­ances this year. He is mak­ing more saves and his goals- against av­er­age has in­creased only slightly — to 2.60 from 2.53. But while the team in front of him av­er­aged 3.04 goals in regulation dur­ing Miller’s starts last sea­son, the goalie is re­ceiv­ing only 2.41 goalsper-game of run sup­port this year.

“I think I’ ve been pro­gress­ing the last few years, steadily build­ing a more mod­ern game,” Miller said. “In a l ot of ways, i t has helped me this year … but it hasn’t trans­lated into as many wins as I would like. You’d give up a lot of things for more wins.”

Af­ter a decade in Buf­falo, Miller was one of the last Sabres traded from a team that was briefly one of the best in the East­ern Con­fer­ence. Stripped to their core and then some, the Sabres will miss the play­offs a fifth straight sea­son this year and fin­ish again among the worst teams in the NHL.

This should give pause to those in Van­cou­ver who hope Ben­ning will sim­i­larly va­por­ize his ros­ter.

Miller sees fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences be­tween the two re­builds.

“In Buf­falo, there was the sense ev­ery­one was leav­ing, ev­ery­one was go­ing,” Miller re­called. “I don’t get that sense here be­cause there’s a core group of guys that I don’t think are go­ing to leave. Here, you have the first line of Danny and Hank (Sedin) and Jan­nik ( Hansen), and I don’t think they’re go­ing any­where. Our top pair­ing on D, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, are not go­ing any­where. So right there, that’s a good base. We’ll see what Jim sees as the fu­ture of this team. But we have a team right now and even though we’re a lit­tle banged up, it’s up to us to find ways to win.”

Miller is do­ing his part.

DAR­RYL DYCK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

High ex­pec­ta­tions came with the sign­ing of goalie Ryan Miller,

with lit­tle yield.

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