Can Buffalo Sabres Keep Ryan Miller in Town?

By Casey Drottar
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

No team in the NHL has been having a fire-sale quite like the Buffalo Sabres. Starting from the 2012 offseason, the team jettisoned players such as Derek Roy, Robyn Regehr, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. There are also rumors the team is shopping former Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers. Clearly the Sabres’ on-ice struggles have forced the front office’s hand and led to planning for the future.

In terms of big names in the Buffalo trade rumor mill, it gets no bigger than franchise goalie Ryan Miller. The American netminder has seen his name bounce around the trade winds for almost a year now. Early on this season, it was rumored he might be heading to the Edmonton Oilers. However, these rumors were squashed when it was revealed Edmonton was on Miller’s no-trade list. Regardless, the more Buffalo loses, the more often various teams around the league will call about Miller’s availability.

It seems, though, that the front office may be trying to keep their goalie in house. Midseason-replacement coach Ted Nolan recently noted how often successful teams are built by focusing on goalkeeping first, and with one of the best in the league already on Buffalo’s roster, it makes sense to try and rebuild around him.

“You look at all the championship teams and it starts from goaltending out,” Nolan said. “I prefer you build around him rather than use him as a pawn to try and get something to make you better.

“You learn to deal with the now as a coach and we’ve got one of the better goaltenders in the world here and I’d like to build around him myself.”

He’s not wrong. It makes all the sense in the world to try and keep a top-level goalie on your roster, as losing Miller will only set back their rebuilding efforts.

The problem, though, is the fact that Miller is on the final year of his contract. Someone of his talent hitting the free agency market will no doubt send dozens of teams reaching out to try and sign him. And since Buffalo is at the bottom of league standings, Vegas odds favor the fact that most, if not all of those teams will be better than the Sabres. Miller knows this all too well, and you’d like to think the front office is aware as well.

So, if Nolan is serious about really trying to keep Miller in Buffalo, he has to realize how steep a mountain this task is to climb. Buffalo can play the “you’ve been with us since the beginning” card all they want, in the end it’ll come down to whether or not Miller believes the team can compete right away. Unless a stunning turnaround is coming up, it sure looks like the Sabres will need a few years to right the ship. Miller, at 33 years of age, is most likely running low on patience.

Buffalo is running low on time. They have a few months to do whatever they can to convince Miller to stick around. If they decide to campaign for the rest of the season instead of trading Miller, the team runs a huge risk of losing him this summer for nothing. There are always teams that are ready to pony up for quality goaltending, so the Sabres would definitely generate some solid offers for Miller’s services. But Buffalo needs to make a decision on whether or not a trade is the route they want to go.

New owner Terry Pegula promised multiple Stanley Cups to a championship-starved fan-base when he was hired in 2011. The Sabres have bottomed out ever since, and its testing their supporters’ patience. If they go all-in on trying to retain Miller, only to watch him bail as a free agent, it could be a crippling blow to Buffalo’s hopes of becoming relevant any time soon.

Casey Drottar is an NHL writer for Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook

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