Goalie Miller could be running out of time in Vancouver
• 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.
High expectations came with the signing of goalie Ryan Miller, with little yield.