COMMENTARY | The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a seemingly endless cycle of rebuilding mediocrity.
One of the biggest decisions facing general manager Darcy Regier in the offseason leading up to 2013-2014 is what to do with star goaltender Ryan Miller.
Miller has one year left on his contract at a cap hit of $6.25 million. Although he is arguably the Sabres best player, he has been maligned by fans for giving up weak goals and a perceived lack of mental toughness.
Aside from the 2009-2010 season where he won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender and was named MVP of the Vancouver Olympics, Miller has been consistently average.
He has spent his entire 500 game career in Buffalo, posting a pedestrian stat line of 269 wins, 2.59 goals against average, .915% save percentage, and 28 shutouts.
He will be 33-years old when the 2013-2014 campaign begins and the window of opportunity for his chances at the Stanley Cup will be that much closer to closing.
Like dating a girl that has all the qualities to be, but simply isn't the one. There comes a time to decide whether to continue living a lie or face facts, man up and move on.
From Regier's point of view, there should be little pressure to jump at the first offer for Miller. After Phoenix Coyotes free agent Mike Smith and former Bruins star and Islanders no-show Tim Thomas, the unrestricted market is very thin.
Before the draft on Sunday the Sabres sit at $14.4 million (capgeek.com) in available cap space and have numerous holes up and down the current roster. Within the logical parameters of a rebuild, Regier would covet draft picks and top prospects to balance the trade value, then use players and cash to equalize cap numbers and finalize a deal.
After the draft, Regier will presumably have one of the roster holes taken care of in the form of the 8th or 16th overall picks. At which time a package will more likely include prospects and/or a player rather than future considerations for the 2014 draft.
Based on current cap situations, goaltenders signed to the roster for 2013-2014 and the amount of picks and/or players each team has stockpiled, here is a look at the top five teams that could be in the running for the services of the longtime Sabres backstop.
5. Phoenix Coyotes - The Coyotes are the longest shot on the list. The overall financial status of the franchise has been in limbo and while the NHL has control, there is little to suggest they would be willing to make such a bold move.
Starter Mike Smith and backup Jason LaBarbera are both headed to free agency. Phoenix does have two prospects in the pipeline, but both are young and unproven. If the Coyotes would be willing to part with RFA Mikkel Boedker or star defenseman Keith Yandle, Regier might be willing to accept a late rounder as compensation. Otherwise a deal seems farfetched despite a glaring need.
4. Calgary Flames - Longtime Flames netminder Mikka Kipprusoff has unofficially retired, leaving Calgary with another huge hole to fill on a roster chock full of them. The Flames bring a small stack of chips to the table other than the 6th overall and 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft.
If the Flames decided to fish, they could bait their hook with a swap of first round picks and a promising prospect; Sven Baertschi (F), Ken Agostino (F), John Gaudreau (F), Max Reinhart (F) and Markus Granlund (F) lead the list of possible candidates.
3. Florida Panthers - Florida makes sense for a few reasons, but a major hitch would be their willingness to part ways with top goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom. The Panthers are swimming with cap space of $17 million and they pocket the 2nd overall pick in 2013. It's unlikely they would find Miller worth moving Jonathan Huberdeau (F), Erik Gudbranson (D) or Quinton Howden (F).
Markstrom is a RFA, so the Sabres would need to work out a new contract or a sign-and-trade type of deal, but the 6'6" Swedish prospect and a 2nd rounder for Miller sounds like a win-win for both sides.
2. Edmonton Oilers - In central Alberta goaltending has been an issue for quite some time. 40-year old Nikolai Khabibulin is headed to free agency and Devan Dubnyk has yet to prove he can be a consistent starter.
With a young, talented roster, a shade under $15 million in salary cap space and a desperate need for consistency between the pipes, the Oilers seem to be a nice fit. As compensation, the Sabres could be looking at a deal involving the 7th pick in 2013. If not, perhaps a package could be built around one of the young studs Edmonton has accumulated from a their recent string of top picks. A few of the names Regier would covet are: Olivier Roy (G), Justin Shultz (D), Sam Gagner (F), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (F), Taylor Hall (F) and Nail Yakupov (F).
1. New York Islanders - The Islanders make the most sense in this situation because incumbent starter Evgeni Nabokov and the half retired Tim Thomas are both headed for unrestricted free agency. Mega deal recipient Rick DiPietro spent last season wallowing in AHL affiliate Bridgeport, along with 2009 3rd round draft pick Anders Nilsson who struggled to compete at the minor league level.
With a league high $29.237 million in cap space and the 15th overall pick in the upcoming 2013 draft, the Islanders have what it takes to be a prime landing spot for Miller. Pair that with the amount of top-prospects they have in their system like: Griffin Reinhart (D), Calvin de Haan (D), Nino Niederreiter (F), Brock Nelson (F) and Ryan Strome (F), the pieces are there to make a deal. So pick up the phone Darcy - former goaltender, Isles GM Garth Snow is waiting.
*After the Philadelphia Flyers exercised a compliance buyout of underperforming Ilya Bryzgalov on June 25, 2013, they have become the popular pick around Buffalo to land Miller. Although it is in GM Paul Holmgren's pedigree to make blockbuster moves, their salary cap situation handcuffs them. Unless they are willing to move marquee players from their current roster a deal for Miller is unlikely.
Another dynamic to keep in mind is that Miller has a limited no-trade clause as well, giving him the power to list eight teams that he would not be willing to accept a trade to.
Despite all of the speculation, it is possible Regier will wake up one day and realize the relationship between his star goalie and the only NHL team he's played for is not unsalvageable.
Should the Sabres find the right mix of timing and compatibility, who will occupy the blue paint in Buffalo? Assuming Miller's replacement doesn't come in a return deal, can Jhonas Enroth prove himself an NHL starter?
Maybe, but let's dump the first girl before considering who to date next.
Gunner Taylor is a Buffalo, N.Y. native who is a fan of the Bills and Sabres. He has contributed to sabrespace.com, buffalorising.com and wnyhockeyreport.com.
- Ice Hockey
- Sports & Recreation
- Buffalo Sabres
- Darcy Regier
- Phoenix Coyotes
- Ryan Miller