Ryan Miller: Trade Bait or Franchise Foundation?

Published on 27-Feb-2014 by J Square Humboldt

NHL    NHL Daily Update

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Ryan Miller: Trade Bait or Franchise Foundation?

The face of Buffalo's franchise has been protected by a goalie mask for a few years.

But right now, nothing is protecting Ryan Miller from speculation about his future.

The world-class goalie has been a rose stuck among a bunch of thorns -- not the least of whom has been John Scott -- and now that it's been firmly established that the Sabres again are going nowhere in the standings, what passes for the team's brain trust is facing the prickly issue of where Miller fits into their plans.

This is normally what it takes from Miller if Buffalo is going to win a game:

Isn't it time for the Sabres' stalwart to start doing that for a playoff contender?

The NHL trade deadline is 3pm est on Wed 5 Mar, so the midnight oil is burning in upstate New York.

Miller may still be in his prime, but it's the back end of it. His current salary is a relative bargain compared to the likes of New York Rangers savior Henrik Lundqvist. But his contract is up this summer.

While St Louis and Minnesota have long been rumored to be landing spots for the Sabres' goaltender, the asking price has clearly been too high. The Wild are scrambling just to make the playoffs, while the Blues keep trying to find the right chemistry to finally make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since their initial seasons as a franchise, when the NHL packed all the new teams into one division.

The new sweepstakes entrant could well be Washington. The Capitals seem to whip a new goalie into its mix every season, and none of the current candidates are of Miller's caliber. However, like the Blues, Washington is not a prospect-rich organization, and GM George McPhee gave away his top young talent -- Sweden's Filip Forsberg -- for a bite at the Cup cherry last year, to no avail. He may still be gunshy after that experience, even if the Caps are like Minnesota, struggling just to get into the playoffs themselves.

No team will close a deal for Miller if a new contract isn't agreed in advance. Sending away a solid package of players for a rental goalie just isn't going to happen. Salary talks aren't completed suddenly, and no evidence of their occurrence has been leaked; thus, it may be that former Tampa Bay Lightning GM turned agent Brian Lawton is the dude in the know:

Lawton on Miller trade

Could this be due to Ted Nolan's reputation as a molder of grinders into contenders? Nolan certainly has input into the Sabres' plans. Has Miller signalled he'd give Buffalo a hometown discount in his upcoming quest for a new contract? Is he willing to risk any chance at the Cup elsewhere for a rebuilding gambit with his current team?

If so, Sabre victories will more than likely still need multiple displays of skill like this over the next 3-5 years:

Nolan and GM Tim Murray may be staking their jobs on this, as well as Miller going all-in with the chance of Buffalo returning to the ranks of NHL elite.

Either way, he's going to have a tremendous say in the matter.