Cross Checks: Ryan Miller

No one was happy in St. Louis when the highly touted Blues made a hasty exit from the 2014 NHL playoffs.

The Blues built a 2-0 series edge against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference quarterfinals only to surrender that lead to their hated division rival in a stunning six-game set.

That bitter defeat will be a sore subject when training camp begins next month, no doubt, but according to former Blues star Keith Tkachuk, it may serve as quite the learning experience as well.

[+] EnlargeKeith Tkachuk
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonKeith Tkachuk likes how his former team is building for postseason success.
“I think everyone in the organization was disappointed, fans clearly were, when we were up two games to none [and lost],” Tkachuk told in a recent phone interview. "The young guys, I think it will be beneficial to them to be a little aggravated, to see them knocked off by Chicago, which is a good rivalry here in town.

“I think you’ll see a lot of angry guys, pissed-off guys [in camp].”

Those young guys are the key to the Blues’ future and remain a bright spot for a team that has gone into recent postseasons as one of the elite squads out West and then run into some of the most fearsome opponents.

Tkachuk, who recorded 1,065 points in 1,201 NHL games and spent nine seasons with the Blues, sees defenseman Alex Pietrangelo thriving this season with another year of experience under his belt. And he views Jake Allen as a strong competitor who will push Brian Elliott for the starting goaltending job.

Tkachuk says the 24-year-old Allen has done things “the proper way,” paying his dues and rising up the ranks steadily after years in junior hockey and the American Hockey League. He also has good size, keen stickhandling skills and a growing sense of confidence. Tkachuk thinks his development, and the Blues’ stability in net, will benefit from that.

“This is the perfect situation. Elliott is a little bit later [into his career] and Allen who needs more NHL seasoning,” said Tkachuk. “If you have Elliott, who is a great pro, and they push each other in practice, Elliott’s working habits in practice will have a big-time influence in Allen. Whoever’s playing well is going to play.”

That’s not to say that Tkachuk did not support the Blues’ bold move to trade for Ryan Miller in February last season. It was a bold decision from management, namely general manager Doug Armstrong, that indicated the club was ready to go all-in on the 2014 postseason.

But the acquisition did not go as planned. Miller posted a pedestrian 10-8-1 record with a 2.47 goals-against average and .903 save percentage for St. Louis, and the Blues chose not to re-sign the longtime Buffalo Sabres netminder, who subsequently signed a free-agent deal with the Vancouver Canucks in July.

“It was definitely worth a shot,” said Tkachuk, who spends the majority of his time traveling to watch his two teenage sons play hockey and coaching his youngest in midget minor. “Last year, there were a lot of question marks with Jaroslav Halak, so [the Blues] made the move and I’d have done the same thing. It didn’t work, but it’s not all on him. As a team, sometimes you need a change. Jake Allen, as well as he did in Chicago, deserves to be here.”

Tkachuk also said he loves the signing of center Paul Stastny, which adds depth down the middle and gives captain David Backes some help at the position.

“It brings some much-needed offensive help, not just 5-on-5 but on the power play, which is huge,” Tkachuk said.

Heck, in a Central Division that keeps raising the caliber of competition, the Blues had no choice but to ante up.

“It’s a challenge every night,” Tkachuk said. "You’ve got the two-headed monster in [Patrick Kane] and [Jonathan] Toews, who really played well [in the playoffs]. You know Colorado is going to have another good year, especially adding [Jarome] Iginla. Dallas has gotten better with [trade acquisition Jason] Spezza.

“I think Stastny was a huge move shown by management and ownership that we want to take it to the next level, but it’s definitely a tough division. We have to close out teams when we have them.”

There is something equally perfect and sad about the Vancouver Canucks ponying up $6 million a year for three years for goalie Ryan Miller.

If you believe in things like karma -- or just weirdness -- then maybe this was how it was all supposed to work out for one of the NHL’s most mercurial franchises. Not that you’d have imagined this a year ago, when the Canucks had two top-end goaltenders in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

Of course, the team for whom dysfunction didn’t become just a word but a way of life didn’t manage to hang onto either one, trading Schneider for the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, and sending Luongo to Florida at the trade deadline for a marginal goalie in Jacob Markstrom and marginal winger in Shawn Matthias.

That left them with Eddie Lack, who showed only hints that he could be the Canucks' goaltender of the future, as they missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

Since then, general manager Mike Gillis was given the heave-ho, as was John Tortorella after his first season as the coach. And they were replaced by president Trevor Linden, Jim Benning as GM and Willie Desjardins as coach, who curiously turned down a chance to coach Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And then there was Miller, the former Vezina Trophy winner and MVP of the 2010 Olympics in (where else?) Vancouver. Miller was acquired at great expense by the St. Louis Blues from Buffalo at the trade deadline in the hopes that he might help them erase decades of Stanley Cup frustration.

But after the Blues went up 2-0 in their first-round series against Chicago, they lost four straight, with Miller turning in just adequate performances in allowing 12 goals in the final three losses. It was a performance that brought his tenure in St. Louis to an abrupt end and sent him to the free-agent market with his reputation in need of some serious rehabbing.

Will that get done in Vancouver?

Well, it would make for some serious storytelling if Miller is somehow able to resuscitate the Canucks’ flagging fortunes, what with center Ryan Kesler gone after demanding a trade, and the team in a definite state of flux and rebuilding.

Just as Luongo is being counted on to somehow lift the Panthers back to respectability in the Eastern Conference, Miller will get a chance to show that his turn in St. Louis was a blip on the radar and that he has the goods to help an average team be so much more.
The offseason activity is beginning to pick up around the league as the games wind down. We made a few phone calls Wednesday to catch up on a few interesting situations around the league:
  • Now that Jim Benning was officially announced as Canucks GM, the search will be on for a head coach in Vancouver. Barry Trotz will likely be among the top candidates. The well-respected bench boss, who was Nashville's coach for 17 years, has already met with the Washington Capitals, and word is he’s also going to meet with the Florida Panthers about their coaching vacancy.

    The Canucks, by the way, sped up the process on Benning once Pittsburgh fired GM Ray Shero on Friday, apparently fearful that the Penguins would be all over Benning, Boston’s assistant GM.
  • Speaking of the Penguins, after mega-agent Pat Brisson turned down Pittsburgh’s overtures to fill the GM void, the search continues. Six or seven candidates are in play as of Wednesday, two being Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois and Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Norm Maciver. Don’t have a feel yet for who’s the front-runner but those are two of the guys who will get a look at the very least.
  • Despite repeated reports linking Wayne Gretzky to Washington, it doesn’t sound as though The Great One and the Capitals are a match at this point. Whether it’s for president of hockey operations or another high-end executive job, at this hour, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Which is too bad, because No. 99 in that kind of role would be a great asset. The Maple Leafs talked to Gretzky about a similar role last summer but talks didn’t produce a deal. That job went to Brendan Shanahan last month.
  • Sticking with the Caps, one industry source (not a Caps source) believed Wednesday that Washington will most likely reach out to fired Penguins GM Ray Shero at some point. It’s believed Paul Fenton (Preds assistant GM) and Don Sweeney (Bruins assistant GM) are among other candidates in the mix for the GM job.
  • And finally, where will Ryan Miller land? The decision by the St. Louis Blues to not try to re-sign him after a first-round playoff exit was probably a mutual decision anyway. It means Miller is headed to the July 1 unrestricted free agency market for the first time in his career, which was pretty much always the plan. He’s been linked for almost a year to the Anaheim Ducks, perhaps because Miller’s wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so the fit would certainly work from that perspective. But a source told Wednesday that the Ducks have decided to stick with the kids in net, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, and do not plan on courting Miller. You can also rule out fellow California club San Jose. The word out of there is that the Sharks are going to continue to focus on their mini-rebuild and it’s about youth for them. Adding veteran players is not in the cards in San Jose.
Ryan Miller was just the perfect fit for the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline -- few people would argue that. The question is will he be the perfect fit past this season?

The Blues certainly hope so. They’ve already made it clear to Miller and his agent, Mike Liut, that they intend to aggressively try to re-sign the goalie after the season, hoping the former Vezina Trophy winner will stay on board.

There are some who felt the Blues would wait to see how Miller performed in the playoffs before making that decision, but not so. They’ve already decided they want to keep him but won’t begin contract talks until after the year is over.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Miller gives it some serious thought. St. Louis is an awfully popular city with players, and the Blues will be a contender for a few more years to come.

On the flip side, July 1 isn’t that far away and he’s never been on the open market.

He’s been linked rumor-wise in the past to Anaheim in part because Miller’s wife is an actress in Los Angeles and the netminder works out in Southern California every summer.

But the Ducks have Frederik Andersen and John Gibson -- two young netminders they’re very high on -- plus, who knows what happens with Jonas Hiller (UFA on July 1).

Senators high on Hemsky
Speaking of rental players, winger Ales Hemsky has been a really nice addition so far in Ottawa despite the Senators’ overall struggles this month.

The Senators have seen enough of the Czech winger that they’re planning to reach out in the near future to Hemsky’s camp to see if there’s any interest in talking extension. The money would have to make sense for budget-conscious Ottawa, but the club has interest in making his stay long-term.

Vanek's plans unchanged
Thomas Vanek has loved his time in Montreal so far, saying his hat trick versus Colorado was one of the most exciting moments in his career.

Having said that, in talking with Vanek’s agent Stephen Bartlett on Tuesday, he reiterated that at this point nothing has changed in terms of the plan to go to the July 1 market. Obviously, Vanek could always have a change of heart if the Habs provide him a magical spring run and he finds it just too hard to leave (like Alex Kovalev did a decade ago), but right now the plan hasn’t deviated. It’s what Vanek told the Sabres last summer, it’s what he told the Islanders this season.

Leafs' Bolland using experience
Maple Leafs center Dave Bolland played in his third game back Tuesday night, versus the Blues, after missing nearly the entire season with an Achilles’ injury, and his return comes with his team in a deep slide.

He’s not shied away from using his two-time Cup-winning experience from his days in Chicago to voice his knowledge to a young Leafs team during this tough time.

"Having gone through two Stanley Cup finals and winning, there’s experience that comes with that, and if I can help some young guys out that haven’t been through it -- maybe not a whole lecture in front of the team, but just saying a few words to a few guys," Bolland said Tuesday morning. "It helps give the guys a jump, maybe."

Let it be known that when we tracked down goaltender Ryan Miller on Monday afternoon, he was in the checkout line at Whole Foods performing one of the several errands he had mapped out in only his third full day in St. Louis.

"Today I have a car full of stuff I have to figure out how to get up an elevator. That's my next challenge of the day," Miller said with a chuckle over the phone.

The St. Louis Blues' blockbuster acquisition spent most of his first week on the road with his new team, which he said was very beneficial in getting to know the new lads.

On Sunday night, Miller moved into a furnished apartment.

"I've been running around all day trying to get things done," said Miller, whose Blues host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. "It's kind of a whirlwind, especially coming back from Sochi. Even though I didn't play as much as other guys at the Olympics, we trained really hard while we were there. With the time change, it took me a little long to adjust. It felt like [Saturday's game against] Colorado was the first game where I felt awake. Before that, I was running on adrenaline after the trade."

Not bad for a guy running on adrenaline: Miller is 4-0-0 as a Blue, having allowed only six goals.

It's the kind of first impression that was likely needed, given the immensity of this trade. The Blues were telling the hockey world they were all-in with the Miller pickup.

"That's not lost on me. I understand what's going on and the expectations that come along with it," said Miller. "It's not unlike the years in Buffalo when I played on some teams that were ranked pretty highly [back-to-back conference finals, in 2006 and 2007]. It was a similar kind of feeling, just trying to learn lessons from those seasons and be ready to perform when it counts."

Being traded for the first time can be daunting, but Miller has found a dressing room he already likes very much.

"It's been good, a nice group of guys. They've got energy and confidence," said Miller. "This group has not disappointed. Such a hard-working team, very competitive. That's what stands out so far."

Of course, there's some familiarity that helps Miller in his transition. He came over from Buffalo with Steve Ott, and in St. Louis he has been reunited with former Sabres teammates Jordan Leopold and Derek Roy. Plus, he is becoming reacquainted with Team USA teammates David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk.

"What was kind of wild was that, less than a week before I got traded, we had been sitting in a cafe with those guys in Sochi," Miller said, chuckling, referring to the Olympians. "My wife and I had gone for a walk on the Black Sea. We had a day to ourselves before we had to fly back. We hung out with Backes and his wife and family and T.J. and his mom and my wife and I.

"It was kind of ironic. We laughed about it after the trade. When I got to the Blues, we joked, 'We were on the Black Sea just six days ago.'"

Now about that white mask Miller has been wearing. When is that newly designed Blues mask coming?

"I've got one in the works," said Miller. "Obviously, it takes a little bit of time. I sent a design over to [mask creator] Ray Bishop a couple of days ago. He sent me a little teaser, so he appears well on his way with that and hopefully I'll get it soon."

Then Miller adds in a nod to his agent and former Blues netminder of the 1980s: "But until then, it's a throwback to Mike Liut with the white mask."

Miller found it tough to leave Buffalo, a comment he repeated a few times Monday, but it's clear he's quickly making St. Louis his home.

Whether it’s just for a few months or longer remains unanswered, but buckle up, NHL: The first-place Blues have their goalie and they're going for it.
The St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild tallied the most mentions in an unscientific poll of NHL general managers who were asked which clubs impressed them the most with their trade deadline moves.

The Blues were the most cited among responses from 10 GMs on Thursday, their blockbuster acquisition of netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott solidifying St. Louis as a Cup contender. Blues GM Doug Armstrong got lots of kudos from his peers in our little survey Thursday.

"[Armstrong] gave up a lot, but he got the goalie he needed," said a Western Conference GM. "He’s got conviction. He went for it. I admire him for that."

Added an Eastern Conference GM: "St. Louis for sure got better. Ott is a bit overrated, but [coach Ken Hitchcock] has had him before and will get the best out of him. Miller obviously is the key guy there, a huge upgrade in goal."

The Habs and Wild were tied for the second-most mentions after Montreal nabbed Thomas Vanek and Minnesota got busy over a 48-hour period, adding goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and scorer Matt Moulson.

[+] EnlargeThomas Vanek
Paul Bereswill/Getty ImagesGetting Thomas Vanek for a bargain price earned praise for Marc Bergevin.
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin got high marks from his peers for getting Vanek at a discount rate from the New York Islanders, while Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher got praise for his industrious few days.

"Bergevin did a really good job on Vanek," said a Western Conference GM in a comment that was repeated by many.

The two Florida teams also got a few mentions and for the purpose of this survey would rank tied for third.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had only one team to deal with in meeting the trade demand of his captain, Martin St. Louis, but Yzerman still got a decent deal out of it from the New York Rangers.

"I thought Steve did an excellent job managing that situation. He got a nice return," said a Western Conference GM.

Said another Western Conference GM via email: "To me, Steve Yzerman did the best job. He was dealt a bad hand. And nobody could have played that hand any better. Plus he did it with class (as always)."

Panthers GM Dale Tallon also got some attention for stunningly getting Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver. "Dale Tallon had the best deadline of all," said one Eastern Conference GM.

The Penguins were mentioned by one Western Conference GM, with Pittsburgh adding forward Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. "Pitt was strong with quality, under-the-radar players," a GM said via email.

Buffalo Sabres rookie GM Tim Murray has been busy over the past week, beginning a rebuild and getting a vote from one Western Conference GM for his efforts.

"Tim Murray certainly added a lot of long-term assets," said the GM.

The Anaheim Ducks struck out on Canucks center Ryan Kesler but did add veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas. Ducks GM Bob Murray got a vote from a fellow Western Conference GM.

"[Murray] always sees the big picture. He is two steps ahead of what is in front of him," said the GM. "No one has come close to doing the job he has done the last five years. He inherited a very difficult situation and executed flawlessly."

Other post-deadline notes and thoughts:

• Interesting to find out from a source Wednesday night that Toronto was among the teams that inquired about Vanek. Imagine the Leafs’ reaction when rival Montreal got him, especially given the modest price the Canadiens paid.

• Needless to say, the Canadiens were never going to get Vanek if the Islanders’ asking price continued to include a first-round pick, which it did for quite some time. Once the first-round pick was eliminated from the equation, the Habs jumped in with both feet.

• Vanek is on record saying he’s going to the free-agent market on July 1, and at this point there's no reason to think that won't happen. Still, in the back of my mind I wonder whether this is a repeat of the Alexei Kovalev situation, with a presumed rental player ending up staying around because he falls in love with the electric market that is Montreal. Food for thought ...

• The Penguins made an effort on Kesler and also had a line in the water on Ales Hemsky, the Edmonton Oilers forward who went to Ottawa instead. I thought Hemsky would have been a nice fit in Pittsburgh, but Goc and Stempniak are solid additions. Goc is versatile and provides depth at center while Stempniak could surprise some people after being given a fresh start, like Jussi Jokinen has done since joining the Pens at last year’s trade deadline.

And this, from our friends at Bovada:

So much for it being hard to move goaltenders at the trade deadline.

Counting Ryan Miller's move to St. Louis late last week, no fewer than six NHL netminders have changed jerseys in the past few days. And who knows where that number will go by Wednesday's trade deadline?

Miller led the pack both in terms of his résumé and the timing of his move when he was dealt Friday night from the Sabres to the Blues in a deal that also included netminder Jaroslav Halak moving to Buffalo.

Tuesday the goalie carousel picked up speed in earnest with Ilya Bryzgalov moving from Edmonton to Minnesota, where the loquacious netminder will back up rookie Darcy Kuemper for a Wild team that has virtually locked up one of the wild-card spots in the West.

The Oilers, having signed Ben Scrivens to a new two-year deal Tuesday, then acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim to shore up their goaltending depth.

And finally the whopper of the day saw Roberto Luongo making his long-awaited departure from Vancouver in a trade back to Florida that also saw the former future heir to the Panthers' goaltending job, Jacob Markstrom, go to Vancouver.

One would imagine that the market for guys like Martin Brodeur, Halak and either Justin Peters or Cam Ward in Carolina (the Canes inked Anton Khudobin to a two-year extension) might have dried up with all the goings-on Tuesday. But then again, it was supposed to be difficult to move goaltenders in general at the trade deadline, so anything is possible.

There have been a few different explanations of the conditional third-round pick in 2016 that Buffalo got from St. Louis in the Ryan Miller deal.

The full rundown:

If the Blues either re-sign Miller or reach the Western Conference finals, then Buffalo, instead of getting that third-round pick, gets the Blues' first-round pick this June (they have the first-rounder in 2015 from this deal); but St. Louis would then get Minnesota's second-round pick this June (obtained earlier by the Sabres) plus Buffalo's third-round pick this June.

The thinking here for St. Louis is that, although they would be giving up another first, it would be a pick between 27th and 30th overall and they'd be moving back just 15 to 20 slots or so by getting the Wild's second-rounder plus getting an early third-rounder (from Buffalo).

So, under this scenario, the Blues would have three second-round picks this June plus two third-round picks.

That's if they reach the conference finals or re-sign Miller.

If Blues don't advance to the conference finals but sign Miller to an extension after the 2014 draft, the conditional pick becomes a 2016 2nd-round pick.
Scott Burnside and Craig Custance break down what the Ryan Miller trade means for St. Louis and Buffalo.

BURNSIDE: Craig, well, that didn’t take long. Just nicely back in the NHL groove after the Olympic break and St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong pulls off what can rightfully be called a blockbuster deal, acquiring Ryan Miller and Steve Ott from Buffalo for a first-round pick in 2015, a third-round pick in 2016, prospect William Carrier, underachieving power forward Chris Stewart and suddenly superfluous netminder Jaroslav Halak. Wow!

I think a lot of us figured there was a match to be made between the Sabres and Blues for Miller. As well as the Blues had played defensively this season -- they are third in goals allowed per game -- there was a distinct feeling that the tandem of Halak and Brian Elliott simply wasn’t capable of getting the Blues over the hump in the Western Conference. History suggested that was true and obviously Armstrong felt the same way as he went after a goaltender with a top pedigree in Miller. So, does the former Vezina Trophy winner tip the scales in your eyes? Are the Blues now as good as the rest -- or better -- in the tough, tough West?

CUSTANCE: For my money, the Blues already stacked up as one of the best teams in the West. They're deep up and down the lineup. In listening to Armstrong explain the trade Friday night, I think you can give one player in particular credit for inspiring this move: Jonathan Quick. The Blues ran into Quick and the Kings the past two seasons in the playoffs and he was a huge reason the Blues were sent home early.

"I saw that again in the Olympics for Team USA," Armstrong said during his Friday evening conference call.

Now, in Miller, he has a goalie who can go toe-to-toe with Quick -- if that's the matchup at some point -- in the playoffs. The way those two teams are built, it almost seems inevitable.

Love the aggressiveness, but boy, that's a lot to give up for two players who can hit free agency in a few months, no?

BURNSIDE: Agreed that the Blues gave up a lot, although part of what they gave up was salary, which is no small thing for a team on a budget like the Blues. And it will be interesting to see how other teams in the West, like, say, Los Angeles, Chicago and Minnesota, react to the Blues' move. I know GMs don’t like to acknowledge making moves because their neighbor does, but I think it’s the reality especially with Chicago and the Blues seemingly on a collision course for a second-round matchup (I know, a ton of hockey to be played before then, just saying, it’s going to happen).

But let’s talk about the Sabres for a minute. Is it possible new GM Tim Murray may make a hundred trades before 3 p.m. Wednesday? For instance, is it beyond the realm of possibility that both Stewart, who has one more year left on his deal at a $4.15 million cap hit, and Halak, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July, could be dealt again before the deadline? And let’s just think of this: What if Halak ended up going back to the Western Conference to, say, Minnesota or even Chicago as a backup to Corey Crawford? I think it’s more than a little possible. Murray also has other assets he might end up dealing, including Matt Moulson and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.

CUSTANCE: I could also see a guy like defenseman Henrik Tallinder being an attractive addition for a contending team looking to add depth like the Boston Bruins. When I spoke with Murray on Thursday, he said there were four or five guys beyond Miller, Ott and Moulson drawing interest from NHL teams. I wondered if former GM Darcy Regier raised the expectations in Buffalo too high with the return he got for Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, but that's clearly not a concern any longer. Murray did just as well in this deal and could potentially have three first-round picks in a stacked 2015 draft. Other teams around the league should take note of the Sabres' strategy. The Sabres wisely started the rebuild while their best players still could get a premium return rather than wait too long like the Calgary Flames. Teams considering big changes, like the Vancouver Canucks, might want to follow suit. So what does this leave us to look forward to with Dan Girardi signing an extension in New York and Ryan Miller already traded?

BURNSIDE: Oh, I think there will be a few more surprises before Wednesday.

OK, before we close, let’s go back to the Blues. You referenced a couple of hard-fought but ultimately disappointing playoff losses to the Kings the past two years. They got swept in 2012 and then blew a 2-0 series lead against the Kings by losing four straight in the first round last spring. Yes, the goaltending wasn’t great in either of those series and it certainly didn't match up to Quick’s performance. Do you think Miller gives them at least a saw-off in that department if the two teams do end up meeting? Part of the Blues’ problems the past two playoff years has been a lack of offensive production. I love the addition of Steve Ott. Hey, he’s got Windsor connections so what’s not to love. But do you think this Blues team is capable of keeping up offensively with, say, the Blackhawks or the Ducks? I love these additions for the Blues, but boy the West is a hard, hard place for anyone wanting to get to the top.

CUSTANCE: It certainly levels the playing field for the Blues in having Miller in goal. But even so -- if they face the Kings, it's against a goalie in Quick who has owned them. If they face the Blackhawks or Sharks, it's against starting goalies who have both won Stanley Cups. The Ducks? All they have is a goalie in Jonas Hiller who currently owns a career save percentage of .935. This trade certainly removes the one question everybody had about the Blues and puts them on a level with the West's elite. Now we wait to see what the rest of the West does to counter.

Fan response: Ryan Miller's future?

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28

Will Ryan Miller be traded before deadline?

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray didn't have much time to get acclimated to his new job before having to deal with franchise-changing decisions.

The Sabres have 11 players on their roster who are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

But no decision is getting more attention -- and deservedly so -- than the future of goaltender Ryan Miller.

The Sabres are at the bottom of the standings and haven't made the playoffs since the 2010-11 season. They already cleared out the front office early in the season and brought in Pat LaFontaine (president), Ted Nolan (head coach) and Murray.

Now they have to rebuild the roster. But is Miller more valuable as the backbone to that rebuild or as leverage for future assets on the trade market?

Either way, the biggest failure for Murray would be if Miller walked away on July 1 and the Sabres got nothing for him.

So you are general manager of the Buffalo Sabres today. Do you trade Ryan Miller?

Make your voice heard. Go to Twitter @ESPN_NHL or Facebook or leave a comment below to let us know if you think the Red Wings will make the playoffs.

The word "whirlwind" pretty much sums up Tim Murray’s first two weeks at the helm of the Buffalo Sabres. The new general manager has been criss-crossing the continent scouting prospects, meeting staff and just getting a handle on the operation he’s taken over.

Oh, and he finally moved to Buffalo.

"I drove down from Shawville [Quebec] on Tuesday with my truck loaded up and moved in," Murray told on Wednesday night. "So now I’m here."

Oh, but the work is just getting started, beginning with what he’s going to do with his pending free agents, led by the likes of winger Matt Moulson and star netminder Ryan Miller among the 11 unrestricted free agents on the club.

"When the concrete offers start coming in, and if the offers are legit offers that improve the franchise going forward, I have to listen," Murray said. "I think that all the pending UFAs are probably expecting to be moved; I’m not going to say they’re definitely going to be moved, there has to be a market."

The reality is that Murray has just begun the process of establishing what deals are out there for some of his UFAs.

"We’re just starting to explore the market the last day or two," Murray said. "I’ve had some calls, and most of the calls are just generalities: 'If I can meet your demand, would you be willing to move him?’ So you have teams calling, for sure, and they’re asking about different players. Every team has a different need; the same names come up, obviously, as far as the forwards go. My mandate here is to get better. I don’t want a five-year rebuild, that’s not what I’m about. It’s about getting better, and if that means trading guys and getting assets for them, then that’s the way it will be."

Murray also said he’s open-minded to whether or not players want to stay to be part of the rebuild, but, obviously, the price has to be right.

I asked a Western Conference GM to ponder what he would do if he were taking over the Sabres, most notably in terms of the pending UFAs on the roster and the rebuilding decisions ahead.

"Miller has been outstanding, so I would keep him for sure," the GM said via text message Wednesday. "Not that many goaltending options and the one you know [is] better than someone you don't know. I have always believed that you need some good veteran players to help [the young] ones along. You don't need tons more draft picks when you have as many as they already do. There comes a point when you could have too many young players [and] picks. I can't speak to how good or valuable [Steve] Ott and Moulson are since I don't know them that well or follow their contribution that closely. If they decide to move them, I would personally not just get more picks and prospects back since they have lot of those already. I would look for players that can play so you don't rely on rookies so much."

Miller is an intriguing situation. He’s easily Murray’s most valuable trade asset and yet there likely won’t be as many teams lining up for the star goalie compared to Moulson, for example. There are just more teams every year looking to add a rental forward or rental defenseman, whereas trading a top goalie midseason is always a tricky proposition because there aren’t as many openings around the league at that position.

And while Murray hasn’t closed the door on any scenario, it seems highly likely that dealing Miller is the most logical play.

"There’s two lines of thoughts on that," said Murray, a key cog in the Ottawa and Anaheim front offices in his past two NHL stops before Buffalo. "I think if Ryan thinks that we’re three years away from being competitive, at his age ... he’s not going to come out and ask for a trade, and I know that -- he’s been here a long time, and I wouldn't expect that. But you do have to be fair to a guy that has put his time in here and be realistic on what’s left and how much time it’s going to take. We were fair to guys in Anaheim and in Ottawa in the past. We traded Mike Fisher to Nashville. It’s not the best scenario, but I think I can figure out what deep down Ryan really wants and what’s fair to him. And maybe what’s fair to him is a chance to win a Cup."

But Murray was quick to add that he’s not trading Miller for sure.

"It depends on the market," he said.

In other words, teams better step up; Murray won’t give his goaltender away.

In the meantime, there are so many other things to think about when you’re taking over an organization. Perhaps something fans wouldn’t think about is that a priority for Murray was getting his scouting staff working on the Rinknet scouting computer system he used in Ottawa -- a different system than they had been using in Buffalo.

"The day after I got hired, I wanted to bring in my own scouting system, as far as Rinknet and rating system," Murray said. "We got that done about a week ago. Now our guys have to learn that, and I know the numbers aren’t going to jive with my numbers right off the bat, but I told them that we’re going to be talking numbers: 'If you told me you went to watch Pierre play last night, is he a five or a four-plus?' That’s going to be the lingo and the culture here. So it’s going to take them time to get on to the system, but I think that was important to get everyone on the same page right off the bat and let them run with it. Scouting is everything. Scouting is where it’s at. You can’t improve unless you evaluate well, whether it’s pro, whether it’s amateur, whether it’s staff -- they say you’re not supposed to judge, but that’s all we do."

You just get the feeling that the Sabres have hired well here.
In a perfect world, the Devan Dubnyk trade is the type of move Nashville Predators GM David Poile would have made at least a month ago.

But the NHL this season is far from a perfect world with the salary-cap crunch handcuffing so many possible trade partners.

With Pekka Rinne having been out most of this season and the timing for his return unclear, Poile long ago wanted to acquire a netminder.

"After we realized that Pekka would be out for an extended period of time, we’ve been trying to improve ourselves in goal, and in order to do that you need a partner to do that with," Poile told Thursday. "But we just didn’t have one. There was no goalie available. This was really the first opportunity. It’s all about timing, I wish we could have done this earlier in the season but it just wasn’t available to us."

With the salary cap going down $6 million for this season and so many teams right at the limit, it’s been tough sledding.

"By my calculation, before we made the deal yesterday there had only been 12 trades in the NHL this season and, with all due respect, not too many of much significance,” said Poile. "It just supports that this is a special year, if you will, with the salary cap going down for the first time in history and everybody just not having a lot of room to make that many moves."

What the acquisition of Dubnyk does signify is that the Preds aren’t ready to pull the plug on the season just yet. They sat eight points out of a playoff spot as of Thursday morning.

"We’re just hoping to get a little bit of a spark here from Dubnyk and other players as well," Poile said.

As for Rinne, the waiting continues.

"We have no timetable," Poile said. "He’s been given the green light to work out. Maybe there’s a shot by the Olympic break? Maybe it’s after the Olympic break? I just couldn’t tell you right now."

Ducks' wish list

What can a team that has won 18 of 19 games possibly need? A right-handed defenseman, that’s what.

The NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks, we’re told, put acquiring a right-handed defenseman at the top of their wish list between now and the March 5 trade deadline. There may have been some interest in Dan Girardi, but the New York Rangers right now are in the mindset they’re going to keep the blueliner, hopeful/confident they can re-sign the pending free agent.

In any case, if Anaheim can acquire a right-handed D-man between now and March 5, that would be the goal.

Countdown on O'Reilly

Circle Feb. 28 on your calendar. It’s as of that date that the trade freeze lifts on Ryan O'Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche can move the star player if they wish to do so. The Avalanche weren’t allowed to trade him for 12 months after matching Calgary’s offer sheet last Feb. 28.

There are several teams we’ve spoken to over the past week that are eagerly anticipating Colorado’s decision on O’Reilly. Does the team move him or keep him?

He’s a restricted free agent July 1 whose qualifying offer costs $6.5 million. No small potatoes. Of course the Avalanche can also sign him to an extension for less money if O'Reilly is up for that.

If Colorado wants to seriously upgrade its defense corps, it likely needs to make a quality top-six forward available. Is that O’Reilly, pending UFA Paul Stastny or is there another way to get that defenseman?

If the Avs do put O’Reilly on the trade market (and again, we don't know if they ever will), there would be at least a dozen teams interested. One of them would likely be the Vancouver Canucks, who are said to covet O’Reilly and have depth at defense, which is what the Avs would be looking for. Food for thought …

Market for Miller

It’s whole-heartedly expected that Ryan Miller will be dealt before the March 5 trade deadline, but as of this week, sources close to the situation said there wasn’t a whole lot going on.

Let’s give new Sabres GM Tim Murray some time to get his feet wet and figure out the market place for Miller, who is an unrestricted free agent July 1.

One also suspects that at some point Murray will speak with Miller’s camp led by agent Mike Liut, and that had not happened as of Wednesday evening.

Also, the market needs to better define itself for Miller, who is having an outstanding year, as there’s no real obvious landing spot for him right now.

Before the deadline, either an injury needs to happen to a starter on a contender, or a contender has to realize that adding Miller is the kind of upgrade that could make the difference in winning a championship.

The St. Louis Blues seem quite content with their current goaltending, and why not given how Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have played this season. Both have been rock solid. But don’t you look at the Blues and say to yourself: "Oh my, if they add Ryan Miller that might just be the final piece."

I know I do. But maybe I’m alone in that thought.

Oilers' goaltending

The Oilers hope Ben Scrivens can develop into a dependable goalie and, if he shows enough the rest of the way, they’ll no doubt look to extend him after the season (he’s a UFA July 1).

But even if Edmonton does keep Scrivens, we’re hearing the Oilers still intend on looking for a more established No. 1 and certainly you can expect a guy like Jonas Hiller to be among the names on Edmonton’s wish list if indeed he walks out of Anaheim as a UFA July 1.

Other options for the Oilers in the offseason include the trade route, which for example could include the likes of Carolina’s Cam Ward ...

Neuvirth's future

During the holidays, Michal Neuvirth's agent publicly expressed frustration at his client’s situation in Washington.

Neuvirth has mostly been the odd man out in a three-goalie set with the Caps. Agent Patrik Stefan hopes his client can find a new NHL home.

But where?

One NHL team that we hear has some interest in Neuvirth is the Florida Panthers, given the uncertainty they have in goal past this season with veterans Tim Thomas and Scott Clemmensen both UFAs July 1.

We’re told there hasn’t been any contact between the Panthers and Caps at this point and you figure Florida isn’t in a hurry, really. Thomas is playing well and it’s really more of an offseason issue.

Neuvirth has one year left on his deal after this season at $2.5 million.

Moving Kadri?

Not sure what to make of all the rumblings we’re hearing on Leafs center Nazem Kadri.

A few front-office sources from other teams say he’s in play, but others have told me this week the Leafs are simply listening, not pushing it. So there are conflicting messages there.

What’s obvious is that the young pivot has frustrated the Leafs' coaching staff all season long, which has at least forced GM Dave Nonis to listen to what other teams have to offer.

3 stars: Sharp, Miller, Neal

December, 30, 2013
From the official NHL release:


NEW YORK (December 30, 2013) -- Chicago Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Dec. 29.


Sharp led the NHL with six goals and tied for second with seven points as the Blackhawks (27-7-7, 61 points) earned five out of a possible six points to maintain first place in the Central Division. He began the week by scoring two goals in a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils Dec.
23. Celebrating his 32nd birthday, Sharp (3-1—4) recorded his third career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in a 7-2 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche Dec. 27 to become the first player in Blackhawks history – and second NHLer in the last 22 seasons (Pavol Demitra: Nov. 29, 2002) – to post three goals on his birthday. He capped the week by scoring his 22nd goal of the season, tied for fourth in the League, in a 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues Dec. 28. Sharp ranks second on the Blackhawks and tied for eighth in the NHL with 22-19—41 in 41 games this season, including
11-6—17 in his past 10 outings.


Miller posted a 2-0-1 record with a 1.55 goals-against average and .961 save percentage to help the Sabres (11-24-4, 26 points) gain five out of a possible six points. He opened the week with 36 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory against the Phoenix Coyotes Dec. 23. He then recorded 39 saves, plus another two in the shootout, in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Dec. 27. Miller finished the week with a career-high 49 saves and stopped all six shootout attempts in a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals Dec. 29, improving to 3-0-0 all-time in games in which he has faced 50 or more shots (also Jan. 8, 2010: 48 saves on 50 shots; Nov. 5, 2013: 47 saves on 51 shots). The 33-year-old East Lansing, Mich., native has played in 28 games this season, posting a 10-17-1 record with a 2.69 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.


Neal (4-4—8) led the League with eight points as the Penguins (29-11-1, 59 points) won two of three games to remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. He was held off the scoresheet in a 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators Dec. 23, but broke out with 1-2—3, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Dec. 27. Neal (3-2—5) then recorded his fourth career hat trick and first five-point game in a
5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Dec. 29. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he also became the first Penguins player to register at least five points in a game in which he factored all of his team’s goals since Jan. 19, 2010, when Sidney Crosby posted 2-4—6 in a 6-4 triumph over the New York Islanders. The 26-year-old Whitby, Ont., native has played in
21 games this season, totaling 14-16—30, including 13-14—27 in his past 15 outings.

Ramblings: The year of the goaltender

October, 30, 2013
Really, Buffalo?: It’s been easy to pile on Buffalo GM Darcy Regier for the shipwreck that is the Sabres, although in the wake of the Thomas Vanek trade there has also been a weird kind of damning with faint praise for Regier’s ability to return good young assets/draft picks as he continues to tear down the team he so poorly constructed. OK, so Regier is really good at cleaning up his own mess. It’s kind of weird, but we’ll buy it. Sort of. But when we read John Vogl’s report in the Buffalo News that the Sabres were prepared to make Vanek the highest-paid player in the NHL, we were gob-smacked. Vogl is a pro so we trust his sources. Now maybe that’s how the franchise is trying to quietly spin having to deal their most skilled skater -- oh, we would have kept him at any price but he decided to fly the coop -- but if the team was actually prepared to pay Vanek more than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or any of the game’s truly elite players, it is stark indictment of everyone wearing a suit connected to the franchise from owner Terry Pegula on down. Talk about a franchise gone down the rabbit hole.

Pain in the net: So, 2013-14 is looking like it’s shaping up to be the season of the goalie. Or rather the season of the banged-up, knocked-down, on-the-limp goalie. To whit, the season is less than a month old and brand-name netminders Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Cam Ward, Tim Thomas, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Backstrom, James Reimer and Jimmy Howard have already gone down with a variety of injuries. Some (like Ward and Rinne) are out long term, forcing their teams to consider Plan B or even C, D or E. Shorter pads? Narrower nets forcing netminders into more side-to-side movement? Lots of theories but one thing is for certain, the injuries are scaring the beejeebers out of GMs and fans.

Goalie to spare: Speaking of goaltending, not sure how things are going to turn out, but Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau has used three different starters this season -- Viktor Fasth, Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen -- and the trio somehow manages to win ... for the most part. While the high-scoring Ducks (they rank seventh in goals per game heading into action Tuesday) have rolled to a 9-3-0 record, the goaltending is in a bit of flux. Fasth has appeared in just three games due to injury, while Hiller faltered in recent days and has allowed 11 goals on the last 60 shots he’s faced. That opened the door for Andersen, the 6-foot-4 Dane who has gone 3-0 and allowed just four goals on the 74 shots he’s faced in his first NHL action. Given that Hiller’s contract is going to expire at the end of this season, the Ducks are seemingly awash in goaltending fortunes (the best of the bunch is likely John Gibson, currently toiling in the AHL) and goalies are dropping like flies (see above), it’s likely you’ll hear Hiller’s name a lot more frequently in the coming days.

Road trip: You have to wonder about the intersection of fate and the schedule-makers. The Nashville Predators appear to be at that very intersection now with starting netminder Rinne out with a hip infection for about a month, which seems like about the amount of time they’ll be on the road on their coming monster road trip. The Preds visit Phoenix on Halloween Thursday night, then head to L.A., Colorado, Winnipeg and finish with a swing East for dates in New Jersey, Long Island and Pittsburgh. After winning their first game without Rinne, the Preds were blasted by St. Louis on Saturday. This is a team that historically relies on scoring by committee and if ever there was a time for that committee to get to work, it’s during this upcoming trip. We talked to veteran Matt Cullen just before Rinne’s injury and he talked glowingly about the mentality taking shape in the dressing room and his role playing mostly with youngsters Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque. It’s not quite two kids and an old goat a la Brett Hull at the end in Detroit, but the Preds are hoping for something similar in production, especially during this long absence from Music City.

Blue-line blues: You might think a 7-3-2 record through the first month of the schedule would be at least somewhat satisfying for the Phoenix Coyotes, but a closer look suggests head coach Dave Tippett would like a little more traditional Yotes style in the current team’s play. On the offensive side of the puck, the team has generated far more than might have been expected, ranking fourth in goals per game at a healthy 3.33 clip. That’s been the pleasant surprise as the team has received contributions from up and down the lineup, including a healthy contribution in goals and points from the back end, where Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle lead one of the most dynamic blue lines in the NHL. But what has Tippett troubled is the team’s overall defense, which is tied for 25th in the league in goals allowed per game. Being in the bottom third of the league in goals allowed, "isn’t a way we’re going to be successful," Tippett told this week. And while some teams are willing to play a high risk game where they’ll trade scoring chances, Tippett doesn’t believe this is the case with his team. He sees a lack of commitment to playing well in their own zone, a point he and the coaching staff made emphatically clear early this week. There have been games when they’ve been badly outchanced, lost important puck battles and, in general, simply not defended as emphatically as Tippett teams perennially defend. The Yotes have also taken a plethora of first-period penalties, which has put them behind the eight ball early on in games. “We’ve gotten down early and we’ve chased games,” Tippett said. The Coyotes have been outscored 14-5 in the first period. When they score first, they’re 5-0-1 but otherwise are 2-3-1.

Winding path: The line between being a very good rookie and a very good NHL player is almost never a straight line. Take Nathan MacKinnon, who is a very good rookie and will almost certainly become a very good NHL player. But after registering seven points in his first six NHL games, the first-overall pick in last June’s draft has gone five straight games without a point heading into action Tuesday. MacKinnon’s not alone. Take the NHL’s top rookie scorer, Tomas Hertl of San Jose. Hertl, of course, scored four times against the New York Rangers in his third game, which gave him six goals at that early juncture. But over the next eight games, the Czech talent had just one goal. Hey, if it was easy, everyone would do it, no?