No Saving the Sabres

Ryan Miller is a good goalie on a bad team—but will reeling Buffalo really trade him to a contender?
April 01, 2013

Though the Buffalo Sabres have poured $9 million into their payroll since 2010, results on the ice have been less than positive. A 6-10-1 start this season left the team floundering near the bottom of the standings, and in February, G.M. Darcy Regier fired Lindy Ruff, the league's longest-tenured coach, who had been behind the Sabres' bench since 1997. The dismissal led many from within and without the club—which, under interim coach Ron Rolston, was 13-15-4 at week's end—to question the organization's direction.

Among them was Ryan Miller, Buffalo's franchise goalie, who last month asked rhetorically, "Do a couple of pieces need to come in? Or do they need to develop? How long is it going to take? ... Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that's going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward? Or are we not the core anymore? Who knows?"

The outspoken Miller (who last November called the Bruins' Milan Lucic "gutless" and a "piece of s---" after the hulking winger barreled into him while both were chasing a loose puck) voiced his opinion again last week. When asked about Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta's own comments about the team—after being a healthy scratch for his first game back from a league-imposed five-game suspension for a dangerous hit, Kaleta said, "I'm pissed off. I want to play"— Miller called his teammate "dramatic" and told reporters, "He needs to just grow up."

The goalie later backpedaled, saying, "I probably shouldn't have handled it that way, but I was frustrated. I think everybody in Buffalo knows I'm prone to say stupid things over the course of the season." He also apologized to Kaleta, but it was the sort of outburst that has alienated the 10-year veteran from fans and teammates, and it seems increasingly likely that the 32-year-old Miller may not finish his career in Buffalo. Regier pointedly told reporters last week that he would listen to offers for any of his players before the April 3 trade deadline. (Miller, who is signed through next season at a salary of $6.25 million, has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto a move to as many as eight teams.)

Though Miller ranks 37th in the league this season with a 2.92 GAA, Buffalo's porous defense has also forced him to face far more shots than any other goalie (887, 70 more than second-place Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets), and his save percentage is still a none-too-shabby .911. With a Vezina Trophy and the 2010 Olympic tournament MVP on his résumé, Miller remains one of the NHL's elite netminders, capable of backstopping a Cup run for a better team. But there aren't many contending clubs that are shopping around for a goalie, and with another year on his contract and the salary cap dropping 8% next season (from $70.2 million to $64.3 million), moving him may prove difficult.

Trade chatter has been lively, but teams may be hesitant to make moves by the April 3 trade deadline; the shortened, 48-game season has made it difficult for front offices to thoroughly evaluate their needs. "Internally, it's hard to get a read for what you really have," says one Western Conference executive.

Still, a team in need of solid goaltending—the Blues and the Coyotes, for example—would likely find what it needs for a playoff push in Miller. If one of those clubs comes calling, Regier will be answering.

Trade Bait

Top players to watch at the April 3 deadline

JAROME IGINLA

Flames

The Calgary captain, who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, has long been rumored to be on the move. With the struggling Flames desperate to rebuild, the winger may finally be packing his bags this spring.

Teams that could use him:KINGS, PENGUINS

ROBERTO LUONGO

Canucks

Vancouver's glut in net (Cory Schneider is signed through 2015) has turned Luongo (signed through '22) into a frequent subject of trade talk. He's notorious for playoff blunders, but his talent is undeniable.

Teams that could use him: LIGHTNING, MAPLE LEAFS

DAN BOYLE

Sharks

Teams with holes on defense may reach for the 36-year-old blueliner (signed through 2014), who's won a Stanley Cup (with the Lightning in '04) and whose big shot from the point remains an asset on the power play.

Teams that could use him: FLYERS, RANGERS, RED WINGS

JAY BOUWMEESTER

Flames

The anticipated fire sale in Calgary could include the 6'4", 212-pound defenseman, who combines size with an ability to move the puck. The 29-year-old Bouwmeester (signed through 2014) would improve any contender's defense.

Teams that could use him: FLYERS, RANGERS, RED WINGS

DEREK ROY

Stars

Dallas traded captain Brenden Morrow to the Penguins; next on the block could be Roy, a solid second-line center who can bolster any contender's depth at forward. A free agent in July, he's a prime rental target.

Teams that could use him: CANUCKS, DUCKS, SENATORS

PHOTOBILL WIPPERT/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (MILLER)NET POSITIVE Miller's GAA of 2.92 ranks 37th in the NHL, but he has faced a league-high 887 shots, making 808 saves—also the most in the NHL. PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (IGINLA) PHOTOROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (LUONGO) PHOTOROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BOYLE) PHOTOGLENN JAMES/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (BOUWMEESTER) PHOTOGLENN JAMES/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (ROY)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)