It’s been an unusual time for Ryan Miller in Vancouver.
Signing a three-year deal worth $6 million per season in 2014, he didn’t arrive with the type of fanfare you’d expect for a former Vezina Trophy winner. Not only did he have to replace a living legend in Roberto Luongo, Miller also had to battle with fan favourite for the net in his first season.
His wife also gave birth to their first child during his first year on the west coast, providing another distraction.
Miller’s play suffered in year one. He won games, but put up a mediocre save percentage of .911, well below Eddie Lack’s .924 SV%.
Calls for him to be traded by the fanbase were plentiful. Instead, Lack was dealt, and fans were pissed.
But whatever you think of Miller’s contract or his birth certificate, he has proven to be the consummate professional in the Canucks’ crease ever since. Is he $6 million good? No, but despite the depletion of talent in front of him, particularly on defence, his numbers have been respectable. He put up a .916 save percentage last season and is at .914 this year.
And when Miller didn’t hesitate to drop his gloves to defend Troy Stecher from a Matt Martin pummelling in November, he appeared to win the hearts of Canucks fans too.
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Miller has been a big reason why the Canucks have clawed their way back into the playoff conversation in the Western Conference, posting a .940 save percentage over his last seven starts.
But now with less than six months before Miller is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, you have to wonder what the future holds for the veteran goalie. He turns 37 in the summer, but clearly appears to have gas left in the tank.
Markstrom’s new three-year deal, paying him $3.67 million per season kicks in next season. The big Swedish netminder turns 27 this month, and deserves a shot at the top job. But Markstrom has never been a starting goalie at the NHL level. He could use an established partner.
Thatcher Demko is waiting in the wings of course, and is expected to become Vancouver’s starting goalie one day. Judging by his play in his first season in the AHL, he’ll need more seasoning before making the jump to the NHL. Demko is 9-8-0 with the Comets this season, with a .901 save percentage. It’ll probably be at least a couple of years before he makes the jump.
Vancouver could use a partner for Markstrom next season that can step in if he falters, or play a backup role if he excels.
Can that be Miller, a proud veteran who has never been a backup in his career? Hard to say.
If Miller buys into the plan and is willing to take a significant pay-cut on a short-term deal, it makes sense.
Given Miller’s age and recent injury history, to count on him to be a bonafide number one goalie would be foolish. But a 1A-1B situation with Jacob Markstrom… I say if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
If Miller is unwilling to play a backup role or leaves for more money elsewhere, GM Jim Benning will have options in free agency. Some UFA options that could share the net include Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Thomas Greiss, and Jonathan Bernier.
But in this case, the devil you know might be better than the devil you don’t.
In a perfect world, the Canucks would re-sign Miller to a one-year deal worth $3 million, while giving Markstrom every opportunity to take over as the starter.