It’s a fair question. At 34 years old, spending parts of 11 seasons in the NHL and playing in 559 regular season games plus another 53 in the playoffs, can we answer the question: is Ryan Miller overrated?
At first blush, it would seem like a ridiculous question. Ryan Miller overrated? The same goalie who carried Team USA on his back to a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics? The face of the Buffalo Sabre franchise since 2005? The same Ryan Miller who won a Vezina (his only one, by the way) back in the 2009/10 season when he posted 41 wins and finished second in the league in save percentage? That Ryan Miller?
Quite simply, yes. There was some debate several years ago about who was the best goalie in the league: was it Henrik Lundqvist? Roberto Luongo? Pekka Rinne? Ryan Miller? You couldn’t go wrong picking any one of those people would say. A team would move heaven and earth to bring a goalie like Miller into the fold, right? That debate may still rage on, but Miller should be nowhere near the conversation. Hell, he shouldn’t have been in the conversation the last four years.
Go take a look at Ryan Miller’s career numbers. A .915 save percentage over his career which isn’t bad. It’s not great either. Taking out his first two seasons where he played 18 total games, Miller has played in nine full seasons so far. For his career Miller has more seasons where his save percentage finished worse than 20th in the league than where he finished in the top-10. That’s not even average goaltending…that’s below-average.
Yes, the last couple of seasons he’s played on some bad teams. But how about after he was traded to the Blues this season? After posting a .923 save percentage in 40 games with Buffalo, Miller got his reprieve and was sent to St. Louis before the trade deadline and was seen as the final piece for the Blues to win a title. Sure, the Blues were humming along in the West and receiving strong goaltending from Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, but this was a chance to acquire Ryan Miller! Unfortunately the myth of Ryan Miller and the actual play of Ryan Miller are two different things as Miller posted a porous .903 save percentage and 2.47 goals against average in 19 regular season games with the Blues (and just for good measure Halak finished the season out with better numbers than Miller).
Okay, okay, so Ryan Miller doesn’t possess great stats. But he wins, especially when it counts, so that makes him an upper-echelon goalie, right? I mean, remember that gold medal game against Canada? Yes, he was beat in overtime by a very saveable goal off Sidney Crosby‘s stick, but he was great up until then. He was the newest American hero!
Well, have you ever looked at his post-season career? Hardly the kind of career where one can be truly considered elite.
The facts: in nine full seasons Miller has qualified for the playoffs five times (which includes his trip with the Blues). He has advanced to the Conference Finals twice, never once reaching the Stanley Cup (his Sabres lost in a game seven to the Hurricanes in the 2005/06 playoffs and in the 2006/07 season he was ousted by the Senators in five games). Since then he’s played on three playoff teams and never made it past round one. Read that again: in the seven seasons since 2006/07, Miller has never carried his team past the first round of the playoffs.
Truly disturbing were his playoffs this past season with the Blues. After helping St. Louis secure a 2-0 series lead against the Blackhawks, the Blues went to Chicago with a chance to put a strangle-hold on the series. Instead Miller let in an utterly embarrassing goal between his legs early in the first period which was the difference in the game. Yes, Miller’s numbers that game looked great, but it’s the goal he let up that was the difference in not only the game, but also in turning the series around. From then it was all Blackhawks who ended the series with a rout of game six in what would be Miller’s last appearance for St. Louis. His final playoff numbers for the Blues: 2.70 goals against, .897 save percentage, and a first round exit. So much for being the final piece of the puzzle.
So what of Miller now? He was rumored to only want to play out West for a contender when he hit free agency this summer. Unfortunately for him none of the California teams needed his services and Miller was left to scramble to find a team. Ultimately he inked a three-year deal in Vancouver worth $18 million. Miller got the money he wanted, although maybe not the amount of years nor his desired team. But with most teams set at the position, Miller had no leverage to start a bidding war. It also raised an eyebrow of this writer when the Blues made it clear after the season they had no intention of bringing Miller back to St. Louis and were content on going with a Brian Elliott/Jake Allen tandem. A Stanley Cup contender opting against the big-name and reputation of Miller for a career backup and rookie? Interesting to say the least…
The important question for Canuck fans: will this be a good deal for Vancouver? They traded away Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison in separate deals before free agency started, seemingly signaling a move towards youth and rebuilding. Then they went out and signed Miller to big money when they already have Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom under contract. With very little goaltender movement this off-season, it seems as if Vancouver did Miller a favor by signing him since by the time free agency hit the only open jobs were in Vancouver or Calgary. Maybe Buffalo doesn’t sound that bad after all, eh Ryan?
Even though he’s already 34, Miller has never had serious injury issues in the past, so there’s nothing glaring out there that signals he won’t finish the contract or decline significantly during it. The issue with Miller is that he hasn’t been an above-average goaltender in four years now and there’s little to suggest he’s going to do enough to lump himself into th elites of the game. He’ll most likely do enough with the Canucks to keep them around .500…not good enough for the playoffs, and not bad enough to secure a top draft pick.
Basically Miller will keep Vancouver mediocre, which is exactly what he is.