UFA goalie Ryan Miller is in VAN being wooed by Canucks’ brass.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 30, 2014
The Vancouver Canucks have been left with an absolute deadly combination for the 2014 offseason: a whole lot of cap space, and a management group insistent on trying to retain as many casual fans as possible. The Canucks have about $17-million to spend on four restricted free agent forwards and Chris Tanev.
Ryan Miller is the new big name that’s circulating. After spending two years trying to get rid of one big goalie contract, the best thing to do, in my humble opinion, would be to spend money on another goaltender. The Canucks currently lack any legitimate young scorers under the age of *checks Nick Bonino’s age* 26 (and even then, Bonino likely had his career high shooting % with 13.8 last year in Anaheim) so the natural way to spend all the cap space would be to go towards Miller.
He’s a fine-enough goalie, I guess. He might have won a Vezina Trophy last year if he’d stayed in Buffalo and Buffalo wasn’t utter dogcrap offensively and defensively. While it has been found that teams don’t really have as much of an impact on goalie save percentages as we’d think, facing close to 36 shots a night, no matter who you’re playing behind, is going to lead to a high goals against average and a poor wins-losses rate. Luckily, most smart people have learned by now that there isn’t too much you can infer about a goalie based on GAA and wins.
But… there also isn’t much you can infer by save percentage. Typically, save percentages in the first half of a season will have no bearing on what happens in the second half, so aside from small patterns of detectable talent, goaltending performance is pretty random. Miller, of course, took his .923 save percentage in Buffalo to St. Louis, where he dipped to a .903 and an .897 in the playoffs.
I’ve kind of made goaltending my pet project over the last two years and no matter how I slice it, there just isn’t a way you can predict goaltending performance, especially in the short-term. While it’s true that you’d rather have a Miller or a Carey Price or a Henrik Lundqvist, the reality is that goalies come out of nowhere all the time to match the performance of the perennial all-stars, and the perennial all-stars have poor seasons with astonishing regularity. There honestly aren’t many goalies you can say are a long-term solution in net (how many times do teams fail in finding “the goalie of the future”?) and those that are are locked up to high-priced deals with Eastern Conference teams and they aren’t moving.
Right now, the Canucks have a terrible roster. They also, however, hold an advantage over many other teams in the league, particularly the West: they don’t have a long-term goalie contract on the books, unless you count the salary retention on the Roberto Luongo deal (which is just a little bit more than the minimum salary of a roster player). The Canucks have $3.15-million on the books for their goalies next year, and as long as you’re going to make no effort to improve the skaters up front, it’s not worth it to lob the money Miller can command on the free agent market to shore up a position that never has any guarantee of improvement, whatever resources you throw at it.
If Trevor Linden and Jim Benning are so totally enamoured with the idea that Eddie Lack can’t conceivably be a starting goaltender, being just 26 years old and only having four seasons of pro success in his career, then I get it. I just don’t see the fit. The Canucks have ten forwards under contract, and other than Chris Higgins, all of them will be playing one line above their skill level. Miller, at his best, is going to bring this team from 11th in the Conference to 9th, all while depleting the Canucks’ war chest. Sure, he’s a guy whose picture you can print on tickets and Average Joe will recognize his name on highlight packs, but I don’t see how Miller helps the Canucks towards their goal of either making the playoffs or finishing so poorly in the standings that they’re awarded a draft pick that they can’t possibly screw up.
This is based on a bit of hearsay, and I’m not sure what’s substantiated or not when it comes to “Canucks courting Miller”, but the Canucks new management team have made a lot of predictable moves that haven’t gone towards helping the hockey team where it counts: on the ice.
Key stat: over the last four seasons, Miller is 15th in save percentage out of 26 NHL goalies with at least 150 games played.
My suggestion is that a fraction of that $17-million in cap space goes a long way towards locking up P.K. Subban or Ryan Johansen on an offer sheet. You’d instantly improve the team for the present, future, and you wouldn’t even have to spend to the cap!