The NHL schedule makers were at their most poetic when they slotted Vancouver in for a Feb. 26 visit to Buffalo. Doing so would've put Canucks goalie Ryan Miller in town, and most likely slated to start, against his former team almost one year to the day after the Sabres traded him. He went to St. Louis in a pre-deadline blockbuster last Feb. 28.
Sadly, a leg injury sustained Sunday night against the New York Islanders cut Miller's road trip short. He had to fly back to Vancouver for an MRI and is expected to be out four to six weeks. That means missing the Buffalo return altogether.
Sure, the "emotional return" to face a former team is sometimes a narrative constructed by journalists, but that is absolutely not so in Miller's case. He and the Canucks practised in New York last Wednesday on an off day before facing the Rangers, and he was open and reflective about his time in Buffalo. Miller had plans to meet up with important people in his life he had left behind last year after the trade. He said he wanted his new teammates to tag along and meet some of his favorite people. He relished the chance to drag some Canucks out of their hotel and show them a different side of Buffalo. Miller speaks with pride about his former home. He clearly wants to dispel the myth perpetuated by, for example, Joffrey Lupul's 2011 tweet from Buffalo in which he asked if there were any "windowless rooms" in his hotel.
Miller's homecoming and tour guide duties will have to wait until next season. That said, his injury comes at a disastrous time for the Canucks during their playoff push, but the personal timing could be a lot worse. Miller and wife Noureen DeWulf have a baby due three weeks from this Wednesday.
"We're still getting the hang of the area, still building relationships with people," Miller said. "I guess we're going to have some deep roots pretty soon when our son is born."
It seems a piece of Miller's heart will always belong to Buffalo, but he also seems happy to call Vancouver a long-term home. He's closer to DeWulf, an actress based out of L.A. when she's working. And he's free form the trade rumors that followed him relentlessly last season and landed him on the cover of THN's trade deadline issue. The constant questions went deeper than typical yearly scuttlebutt for him.
“It was a little different than just being thrown in the trade rumors," Miller said. "It was moving on from something that was my whole hockey life. I grew up in Buffalo, basically, out of western new york. It was kind of strange in that way last year.
"Any time you get to this time of year, people are speculating. This is part of our job. We’re entertainers also. We’re athletes, but it’s entertainment. Some people are meant to talk about hockey, and their wildest fantasies become the most talked about trade rumors. Sometimes they pan out and sometimes they don’t. Last year it was strange to be grouped into that and have it be a defining moment in my time in Buffalo – well, not really a defining moment, but a capping moment."
And it's not like leaving Buffalo via trade parted the clouds surrounding Miller's future. He was still a pending unrestricted free agent whose role with the Blues depended largely on his play there. He started strongly but never looked comfortable on a team that allowed so few shots and didn't let him find a rhythm. He couldn't come up the big save in St. Louis' first-round playoff loss to Chicago. The performance gave way to a mutual off-season breakup.
Now, injured or not, Miller can relax and enjoy being part of a competitive team that includes him in its long-term plans. He's under contract for two more seasons after this one at a hefty $6-million cap hit with a fairly strict no-trade clause that permits him to submit a five-team list of destinations to which he'd accept a move. In other words, Miller isn't going anywhere, and that's cause for celebration in his life.
"This year it's nice to not have to think about so many years spent in one place, ‘Am I or am I not going to have to say goodbye to a lot of people?' ” he said. "But is is the NHL, so I’ll see what happens.”
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin