Okay, so here's the deal. Joe and I decided a few weeks ago to do competing posts about Ryan Miller. Should the Sabres trade him or should the Sabres extend him? I was firmly on the side of keeping him and I had some pretty decent reasons why which I will get to eventually. The problem, of course, is that the issue isn't really as simple as "What should the Sabres do?" because the biggest piece of the puzzle is "What does Ryan Miller want to do?" and Ryan Miller is being pretty mum on that, maybe out of uncertainty, maybe out of politeness. I confess, I've become increasingly despondent over the Miller situation these past weeks. But what the hell, why give up on dumb ol' optimism now? Let's tackle the easy part first…
WHY THE SABRES SHOULD KEEP RYAN MILLER
1. Who the Heck Else is Going to Play Goal? You?
You've watched Jhonas Enroth in net this year, yes? Look, the Sabres are super bad and no goalie is going to win a lot of games behind them. I totally get that. There have been times he's played pretty well and lost. And I also get that playing with a bad goalie is a sure-fire way to end up in the lottery again next year which may be part of the plan, I don't know. But even if you want to tank next year, eventually you need a goalie. I know we have some baby goalies that might be good eventually and I love babies… but not in goal. Baby goalies make me nervous. I'm not a prospects expert by any means, but it seems pretty hard to tell which goalies are going to be successful until they're actually in the NHL being successful. Ryan Miller is a known commodity at an important position. If the plan is to turn things around in the next three-ish years, a good goalie will be pretty helpful. This team has so many important holes as it is. (Good lord, will we ever have another top line center?) Why go creating more? Along those same lines…
2. It Can't be All Babies All the Time
If the plan is to turn things around in the next three-ish years, there have to be some veterans in the mix. They, of course, can come from elsewhere but hey, Ryan Miller's a pretty good one too. A veteran goalie would be especially nice because the defensive corps of the next few years – Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Jake McCabe – is going to be very, very young. I think we've proven that Ryan isn't going to carry a team to the playoffs all by himsef – though God bless his little heart for trying – but he's certainly good enough to make a difference for a young, talented team. Bonus: A young, talented team with a good goalie is certainly going to be more attractive to veterans who aren't already in Buffalo. If the Sabres can convince Ryan that they have a plan worth believing in, they're going to have a much easier time convincing other veterans that they have a plan worth believing in.
3. Money Ain't a Thang
With the cap going up, the Sabres have a huge amount to spend before they even hit the salary floor. They can make Ryan the highest paid goalie in the league without it feeling like too much of a hit. One of the benefits of babies is that they'll be on entry level contracts, at least for a few years. Beyond buying a pretty darn good goalie, the Sabres would also be paying to keep the face of the franchise, something they'll be missing for a couple of years while the kids develop and grow on people. They'll also be buying some fan goodwill. Like say, mine.
And for those griping that you can't pay a 33-year-old goalie that much money for that length of time, well, I am unmoved by that argument. First of all, I don't think that's a given. Marty Brodeur and Tim Thomas have both played good – occasionally great – hockey past 35. Players in general take much better care of themselves now, and Ryan in particular seems to have found a good balance (and a coach that doesn't freak out and scrap the rotation every time the backup loses). I think the fact that he's such a cerebral goalie works in his favor as well. He's smart enough to figure out how to accomodate for certain things as he ages. Is it possible that 39-year-old Ryan will be collecting millions of dollars while not starting? Sure, I guess. Do I care? No, I do not care. Not at all. It happens. If it's a guy who can, in the years in between, potentially be the difference between losing and winning, that's a risk I'm willing to take.
Okay, so now the hard part.
WHY RYAN MILLER SHOULD STAY IN BUFFALO
1. Money Ain't a Thang Part II
A rising salary cap, a lot of cap space, a GM that's on record about spending to the cap, and an owner that will write anyone who looks fun a gigantic check. Ryan has never struck me as the kind to worry mostly about money but lord knows, I've thought that about professional athletes before and been disappointed. As I said above, Ryan's a known commodity to the Sabres. As I also said above, he's the face of the franchise. He moves merchandise and he draws attention. And as a throw-in, he's pretty good at hockey. I can't imagine that any other team is going to even come close to offering Ryan the years and money that the Sabres would. If he wants to keep Noureen in diamonds and pearls, re-signing in Buffalo is the way to go.
2. Babies Grow Up
We've established that the defensive corp is going to be pretty young for the next few years. Pysyk, Ristolainen, Zadorov, McCabe, and McNabb have an average age of 20.4 years. But. BUT! They could also be really, really good some day, maybe in the not too distant future. I adore that little Pysyk already – he's exactly the kind of calm, steady defenseman that makes my heart go pitter patter – and even I, someone who largely ignores players in the system until they're actually Sabres – have seen and heard lots of good things about Ristolainen and Zadorov. The corps listed above could be pretty darn good. Is it a risk counting on them? Sure. But it's a risk everywhere. Things rarely go as planned.
3. It's a Whole New Ball Game (You Never Know)
Ryan's done the hard work by surviving Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier. Incredible accomplishment! Now the fun part starts. As we all know, Darcy had a very hard time trading picks or prospects. Tim Murray is kind of a wildcard right now, but it certainly sounds like he's willing to shake that up. He was on the radio in Ottawa this afternoon and he said, "We're in 30th place. There's no one on the team who can't be traded." The good news is, for a GM who's willing to mix it up, the Sabres are in a pretty solid position. They have a handful of highly-considered prospects, especially on defense, and they have a ton crap of picks with more coming at the trade deadline. It's perfectly within reason to think that Murray might be able to package some of those up and grab some players who are ready to play now to mix in with the guys who will be ready in a couple of years. And then who knows? "You never know!" may not be the best thing to decide a career on… but you never know! In 2007, the Flyers finished in last place. They drafted high, made some aggressive moves in the off-season, and went on to the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2011, the Kings made some aggressive trades, adding veterans in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, squeaked into the playoffs in 8th place, and won the Stanley Cup. On the other side of that Finals, the Devils came out of nowhere and came within a couple of wins of a championship. With young talent, a plethora of picks, a GM willing to take risks, and an owner who could make my house payment with the change in his couch cushions, it's a whole new day.
4. No One Will Love You Like Me, Ryan
Lots of people in Buffalo feel that way, and I think it's true. Back when I was writing Top Shelf, I said that one of the things that bummed me out for Chris Drury a little bit was that he went to the Rangers, wasn't very good, and everyone hated him. If he had stayed in Buffalo and had exactly the same seasons, we probably would have loved him anyway. Oh, sure, there will always be people bitching and complaining, but for a lot of us, he never would've have lost the glow of 2005-2007. No matter what, we would look at him and feel some of the best moments of our Sabres fandom all over again. Rangers fans didn't give a rip about that nor should they have.
Now I will admit that sentiment doesn't seem to factor into players' decisions as much as I think it would – if it did, Albert Pujols would still be in St. Louis and Brodeur wouldn't even give voice to the idea of finishing his career anywhere but Jersey – but I do think Ryan is smart enough to at least think about stuff like this. There's no doubt in my mind that he gets Buffalo. He knows what it would mean to win a Stanley Cup here. He knows what it would mean for the city and his place in it. He knows what it would do for his legacy. Ryan has always seemed very settled in Buffalo. He fits. I don't know if that stuff means enough to him for it to factor heavily into his final decision, but I think he's thoughtful enough to think about them. And if he's thoughtful enough to think about them, maybe he's thoughtful enough to go with it.
Here's the deal. Like I said above, I don't even care if Ryan ends up sitting on the bench collecting money in year five of a seven year deal. I want him to be in Buffalo forever. When I watch David Ortiz interact with Boston crowds or Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter interact with New York crowds, it genuinely chokes me up. I want that. I admit it. I've never been one to separate sentiment and sports. Sports are all about sentiment to me and whether you admit it or not, somewhere in there, it's partly about sentiment for you too.
I've written a few times about being in the crowd for Ryan's first start after his cousin Matt died, a game that ended in an always elusive shutout. He skated out as the first star and lifted his helmet to the crowd, turned around so that the "Matt Man" on the back was facing out. I can't even describe what that moment was like but it was wonderful. We were embracing him and he was embracing us. There was an undeniable connection between a player and a city, something increasingly rare and precious in professional sports. I got chills and tears and I loved feeling those chills and tears.
Ryan, I want you to win a Stanley Cup and if you really feel like your best shot of doing that is somewhere else, well go in peace, bud and best of luck to you. But I really, really want you to win the Cup here. Think of how awesome it would be to lift the Cup in front of fans who have loved you since you were a baby, watched you grow up. Think of how many free drinks and meals that would score you for the rest of your natural life. And if the zombie apocalypse comes and you have an unnatural life, you'll get free drinks and meals then too. Heck, you can gnaw on my bones first.
This can happen. I believe it. Let's do it.