Sports

NHL: (Ryan) Miller Time in Vancouver?

Ryan Miller, seen here in his short stint with the St. Louis Blues at the end of the 2013-14 season. - Wikimedia Commons (author Michael Miller, Pens Through My Lens)
Ryan Miller, seen here in his short stint with the St. Louis Blues at the end of the 2013-14 season.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons (author Michael Miller, Pens Through My Lens)

Miller Time in Vancouver?

With the Canucks now under new leadership – with a three-headed axis of president Trevor Linden, general manager Jim Benning, and coach Willie Desjardins – and with the team trying to rebound as soon as possible from a disastrous 2014 season, Vancouver has reportedly made contact with free agent goalie Ryan Miller.

Or, rather, his agent. That's how these things work, of course.

"Have learned the #Canucks have called the agent for UFA goalie Ryan Miller. Can't imagine Eddie Lack will be happy," reads the first Tweet on the rumour, from News 1130 Sports.

"Sources tell me, Miller would have no issues playing in Vancouver," the second Tweet reads.

(The goalie has reportedly wanted to move out West for some time. His wife is actress Noureen DeWulf, who lives in Los Angeles.)

Miller sort-of struggled in St. Louis last year, arriving in Missouri to play for the Blues just before the NHL's Trade Deadline, after leaving Buffalo. (Benning was part of the group that drafted Miller in the 1999 Draft, while the Canucks GM was with the Sabres.)

But Miller is also the kind of home run goalie Canucks fans could be dreaming of, after the team somewhat shockingly said goodbye to two of them in the past 12 months – first, once-franchise goalie Cory Schneider and then future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo.

They had stability in net once – now they have uncertainty.

Miller put up a save percentage of 0.923 with the Sabres last year, despite the team finishing with an NHL-worst record. And while he wasn't lights out in St. Louis, he has been one the league's best goalies since 2006, winning a silver medal with Team USA during the 2010 Olympics and winning a Vezina Trophy in the same year.

But at age 33, Miller is also looking for a home run himself – likely something that pays him a lot of money and gives him job security.

Before he was traded to St. Louis last season, it was believed Miller was going to ask for at least $7 million per season once he hit free agency. (And now he has.) Despite losing some of his shine with the Blues – who since said they couldn't come to terms with the goalie, releasing him into the free agent market – he's still most likely expecting a raise on the $6.25 million he was being paid in Buffalo.

For the Canucks though, they have to evaluate and define their goaltending situation, which is promising but perhaps not competitive... yet.

With two youngsters in Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver has a tandem of talent in their blue paint. But neither has ever shouldered a full-time NHL load... yet.

"Markstrom and Eddie Lack are currently under contract with the Canucks, but neither has proven to be a steady No. 1 option at the NHL level yet," wrote Sportsnet's Mike Johnston on Wednesday.

Well, it's true... but is that fair?

Lack hasn't proven to be a steady No. 1 yet, but he also hasn't had the chance. Lack came in often in relief of Roberto Luongo last year, and was then thrown unexpectedly into the starting role when his superior was traded to Florida in March.

The Canucks sputtered and spiralled out of the Western Conference's playoff race, but Lack was their best player on most of those nights, even better than center Ryan Kesler, who is now demanding a trade to Pittsburgh, Chicago, or Anaheim and will likely fetch Vancouver a pretty package.

Lack, who's only 26, still managed a healthy four shutouts last season and carried a 0.912 save percentage, despite the team going 16-17 in front of him and despite that being his first season in the league.

(And if you're ready to pin the team's win-loss record on Lack, keep in mind that Vancouver scored 196 goals last season – the lowest in the Western Conference and the second-lowest in the NHL behind, you guessed it, Buffalo.)

Markstrom, who's only 24, wasn't able to lock down the top job with the Panthers in a brief window in 2013, but he hasn't been given much of a shot since then – despite coming into the league as the highest-rated goalie prospect not in the NHL.

Markstrom's stats leave something to be desired, but he has only played for two mediocre, sometimes awful teams in Florida and Vancouver, and he has only played in 47 games in four seasons.

If Ryan Miller was kicked to the curb after one chance, he wouldn't be here right now.

In fact, Miller – who was drafted in 1999 – didn't play a full-time regular season slate in the National Hockey League until the 2007 season, after he played just 48 games in 2006, winning the job heading into the playoffs.

Despite a phenomenal run those first two years and despite one wicked 2010, Miller hasn't really proven himself on a Stanley Cup-contending team yet, either.

If the goalie wants to sign out West for a couple years, even with a big price tag, the Canucks would be crazy not to do it. But if they're forced to banish both of their up-and-comers or if they're going to create another crease controversy, Miller Time may leave a harsh buzz.

Should the Canucks gamble on a sure thing?

Or should they commit long-term to the tweens they already have?

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