Canucks Army Player Previews: Ryan Miller

At one point last season, it looked like the situation in Vancouver’s crease was finally going to be clear. Cory Schneider had been dealt to the New Jersey Devils, and the reins had been handed once more to Roberto Luongo. After being jerked around for 2012-2013, it was Lu’s team again. No more goalie controversy.

Oh how foolish we were.

We should have known that just one year without some kind of nonsense drama was too much to ask. Eddie Lack was a fantastic backup, but he was too fantastic. A 0.925 save percentage convinced John Tortorella starting Lack in the marquee event in the season, alienating Roberto Luongo one final time, leading to a string of events that eventually saw Ryan Miller end up with a 3-year, $18 million contract to be the starting goalie for the Vancouver Canucks in 2014-2015.

So, how will Miller fare after a stellar career in Buffalo and a brutal half season in St. Louis? Read past the jump to find out.

2013-2014 Performance

Miller2

Judging goalies on just one year’s worth of data is never a good idea, so we’ll check out the last few years of Ryan Miller’s career too.

Miller1

For basically his entire career, Ryan Miller has been an above average NHL goalie, with the exception of 2008-09 to the end of 2009-10, when he was an elite starter for the Buffalo Sabres. Keep in mind that the average save percentage of clear #1 goalies is around 0.915, so Ryan Miller has essentially been a slightly above average #1 goalie since 2010-2011 in terms of stopping pucks in all situations.

He’s also been about an average #1 since 2010-2011 in terms of stopping shots at 5-on-5, performing at a level similar to Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, and Ilya Bryzgalov. His 0.9245 5-on-5 save% in the past 4 seasons ranks T-22nd out of 43 goalies who have played more than 4000 minutes over this time span, but his shorthanded work has been stellar, ranking 9th out of 39 goalies who played more than 750 minutes on the PK since 2010 with a 0.8898 4-on-5 save percentage.

Miller has been a solid and reliable #1 goalie since he turned 30, but even so, he’s likely a slight downgrade on both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, who ranked 6th and 7th in 5-on-5 save percentage respectively over this same time. Schneider also appears to be beyond super-elite on the penalty kill, although we’re less sure that this is actually his true-talent ability and not just some extremely favourable variance.

Miller, to his credit, was fantastic with the woeful Buffalo Sabres last season, posting a 0.923 save percentage before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues, where he struggled mightily, posting an Ondrej Pavelec-ian 0.903 to finish the regular season, before an even more disappointing 0.897 in the playoffs. This certainly wasn’t what the Blues were expecting when they dealt Jaroslav Halak to make room for Miller, but it shouldn’t have been too surprising, seeing as a) Miller appeared to be slumping before he was dealt, and b) there’s no clear difference between Miller and Halak anyways.

2014-2015 Outlook

Like Doug Armstrong did last year, Jim Benning went out in the offseason and paid a premium for a 34-year old Ryan Miller, betting that he’ll be an upgrade on Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. Benning and the Canucks made Miller the 6th most expensive goalie in the NHL in terms of cap hit this past summer, and while he’s been reliable and steady and a clear upgrade on Markstrom, it seems unlikely that he’ll be the 6th most effective goaltender in the NHL this season. He hasn’t been that good since 2009-2010, and isn’t likely to get that good now. But hey, goalies are volatile from year to year, and anything is possible.

What’s concerning is that Vancouver may have burnt $6 million on a guy who’s worse than Eddie Lack right now. The 27-year old Swede is coming off a season where he posted a very respectable 0.925 5-on-5 save percentage, which was better than Miller’s 0.920 at 5-on-5 in 2013-2014. In practice, this difference is small enough that we can’t be confident that Lack is better than Miller by any stretch, but if I were a GM, I’d rather make a $6 million per year bet on a centre than a guy who may be worth one or two less goals against over an entire season.

Miller’s age is also an issue. At 34, he’s dangerously close to the age where most goalies tend to fall off a cliff in terms of their performance. Using garik16’s Marcels aging model for goalies, we can project that Miller’s save percentage the next three seasons will be 0.913, 0.908, and 0.903, or a 3-year average of between 0.908 and 0.909 – in other words, a below average goalie as soon as next year.

For the purposes of this exercise though, we only care about this upcoming season, and Ryan Miller is as good a bet as anyone to provide the Canucks with solid starting goaltending in 2014-2015. And to be a really good hockey team, you don’t need your goalie to stop pucks at an elite rate. Just ask the L.A. Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

  • bossram

    Jaroslav Halak at this point, in their respective career`s, is a way,way better goalie than Ryan Miller.When the Blues went out and got Ryan Miller, I shook my head in astonishment.They where cruising along just fine with Halak in net…Like WTF, were they thinking?Then !!! when the Canucks aquired Ryan Miller I thought the same thing WTF? is Benning thinking?The money would have been better spent elsewhere.Like Christian Ehrhoff for defense.(Just my opinion).But what do I know? I`m just a fan.But anywho, great post that`s offside, I totally agree with you.Personally,I think Lacks a better goalie, and,mark my words. We have a new goalie controversy in the immediate future..

  • bossram

    If we were up against the cap this argument would make more sense (what $6 million dollar center was out there for the taking? Or would you have rather we overpaid for a plug like Bolland than a more solid goaltending situation than Markstrom and Lack?). It is true that this may come back to bite them in year 2 or 3 if we are faced with rising RFA/UFA demands but in this off-season at least I don’t see what offensive additions we could have made with the money. Ehrhoff I would seriously doubt would come back here.

    • bossram

      Someone mentioned Grabovski as an option the other day without realizing that

      A) He was anchored to Kulemin for whom the Canucks would have no use.

      B) Free agency is not a grocery store.

      I don’t know why Ehrhoff would choose Vancouver over Pittsburgh or another legit contender with a nice travel schedule.

      On the bright side, nobody has been delusional enough to bring up Stastny…

      If the Canucks truly wanted a centre, Ribeiro would have made a ton of sense (history with Vrbata?) for little money.

      The real issue with the Miller contract is the term.

      He’s an average starter now.

      Any slight erosion of skill or continued improvement in the save percentage environment would take him out of legit starter territory and put him into job share purgatory (or worse).

      Nice post Rhys.

      It’s amazing to see how much the save percentage environment has changed since the beginning of the salary cap era.

      Cloutier wouldn’t even be a backup in this era as small, athletic goalies have been replaced by big, athletic goalies like Schneider.

      And Luongo could have a Stanley Cup or two in his early 20s on a good team as his 920 save percentages were ultra valuable before the full season lockout…

      • bossram

        You`re right NMOO,Ehrhoff would never pick Vancouver over Pittsburgh at this point in his career.But at the time? all we have is the word of Gillis, for what I knew of Ehrhoff,and have heard he loved Van. He knew he was there best defensemen.The data does bear that out.He would have settled for less than Gillis has said, but Gillis was an arrognat fool ie see Raffi Torres.I agree the Nucks missed the boat on Ribeiro.As far as Loungo having a cup or two in his early 20`s I totaly disagree,Loungo was never a clutch goaltender, and I lost total faith in him after that series with Chicago in 2010.He has always melted down in a pressure situation..He was never the same after that.How much does he want to win a cup? Well not much, he`s hanging out in Florida, with his wife, if he wanted a cup he would have asked to be traded to a contender a la Keslar.That tells you everything about his heart.Just gives you some prespective.. about his time with the Canucks?,for sure he ain`t no Jonathan Toew`s..

        • bossram

          Everyone knew what Luongo was made of, which was not much at all. Anyone who told you otherwise was lying through his teeth. Luongo is the only guy I have ever seen anywhere in my memory that actually went on TV and had the nerve to say that his multi overpaid million dollar contract “sucks”. Anyone who says that is pure narcissist.

          Luongo will rot in Florida and when it’s all said and done, would he look back and regret being so bad in those clutch situations? Not a chance. Not from a guy with the heart of a mannequin.

          Kelser is another wart. The man just does not show and when he does for a game or two, thinks that it is enough and lives off that for months until his next goal. Nothing but a disease in the team.

          Burros is another hibernating bear. The guy couldn’t back up his hand biting with scoring on the ice. Burrows was busy starting sh%t he couldn’t back up and they were pushed around in the finals like a bunch of pansies…while coach AV was busy chewing gum. AV also never learned after a 2nd final. And rest assured, he will not go back there for a long time.

          Hindsight tells me it was good that the Canucks didn’t win the cup, because that would have been one undeserving group of heartless tools. Luongo winning the cup? The hockey gods would have rolled in their graves.

      • bossram

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Miller signing was great and I think you’re right that it’s the term that’s a problem. That said I think the other goalies on the market this summer were way over the hill (Thomas, Brodeur), signed for a relatively similar amount (Hiller) or still unproven (Greiss). Markstrom clearly wasn’t ready to be a jobshare goalie with Lack and we saw how Lack suffered under being the workhorse last year. The Miller signing might in the end simply be smoke and mirrors in that he’s not that much better than Lack but it might be that 30 games of Lack is a whole lot better than 55 games of Lack and it’s the former that Miller buys you, at least for Y1. Y2 and Y3 may be a different story of course.

  • bossram

    My feelings about the Miller signing goes to the ultimate confidence the new management has in this Canucks team to bounce back.

    The twins seem to have found a very good fit in the right handed Verbata, so there would be no fit for a 6 mil forward there. Also most 6 mil a year forward would ask for more than 3 yrs. and a full NTC. There are two positives with having Miller in stead of Markstrom.

    1. Lack will start 20-30 games which if started Markstrom started 15-20 we could lose 10 and miss the playoffs.

    2. If this team performs like the management believes, which is playoff level, the season starts over and who knows what happens? Having a veteran like Miller is preferable to having Lack, who has never really played on an international big stage.

    Lack personality will lend to a peaceful coexistance with Miller. There won’t be any “it’s my turn from Eddie” Miller has a short contract, so Eddie knows it’s his job eventually. If the Canucks win and make the playoffs…. No controversy.

  • bossram

    The Miller signing was not wise. We now have 6 million invested for 3 seasons in a guys who’s going to give us slightly better than league average goaltending.

    Except we already have a guy who is a pretty safe bet to give us above average goaltending. And he clocks in at 5 million less.

    If you wanted insurance, could have signed a guy like Greiss. You’d have two guys at a total of about 2 million who both have a reasonable chance to give you above-average goaltending. Maintain flexibility and cap space.

    • bossram

      Hey man, if you’re going to fret over bad signings..more than half the team was a bad signing.

      Luongo was a basket case- ala exposed in the finals.
      Miller is probably a fragile egg but who else do you think would come play for this team? Last time i checked, SC winning goaltenders are NOT beating a path to come play here.

      As they say in the world of dating and love- You take whatever the the hell you can get. cause whatever you get, is better than nothing.

    • bossram

      First, i think the article is completely unfair in describing the Miller season last year. He was in St. Louis only for the last quarter of season, and while he was there St. Louis was missing between 5 and 10 regulars at the end of the season and into the playoffs, that is why they lost and why his numbers dropped, he was not behind the real Blues. I think new mgmt. wanted insurance. So they spent $ 6 mill. I expect they have a budget for goaltending, say a max of 10% of player budget, how that is split is up to manager. They will get lack as RFA in next contract for about $2mill. If he is really good and steady (he did falter under Torts, once number one) then by third year they will be sharing 50-50 or Lack will have majority. They had the money to do this and next year with kids coming in, costs will actually go down and they will have lots of room for a big free agent forward or dman. Actually in good shape this year.

  • bossram

    Just saw the highlights of the Oil Flames game. Eakins will be sacked this year. He will regret ever working for the Canucks of Alberta when it’s all said and done.

  • bossram

    Felonius B-Are you just trolling? If so I guess you’ve succeded as I’m replying.

    1. Luongo managed to stay classy almost all the way through the various ridiculous controversies in Vcr while winning the Olympic Gold Medal. He was a great goalie. He was also right-his contract did suck. That wasn’t being narcissistic, that was just acknowledging things as they were.

    I do happen to agree with you that he’s not going to win a Stanley Cup playing for the Panthers (your words were different-that he’d rot in Florida.)

    2. I’m no Kesler fan, but he had a really good career in Vancouver and has been a premium player. To say of “Kelser” who scored 114 goals over a 4 season span on the Canucks 2nd line (1st line PP) that he “does not show and when he does for a game or two, thinks that it is enough and lives off that for months until his next goal” seems unrealistic to me for someone who over trhose 4 seasons averaged a goal every 2.8 games, played hurt, played exhausted and at times lifted the Canucks on his back.

    That being said, I happen to agree that he’d become a “disease in the team.” I agreed with the Canucks moving him-and would always agree with moving a 30 year old player whose best seasons are behind him and who had become a disruptive influence in the dressing room.

    3. As for “Burros” the man averaged 29 goals a season for 4 years. The year of the famous bite he scored 26 goals in the regular season and 9 goals (including 2 overtime winners) in 25 playoff games. I’m not sure how much scoring you think is needed to “back up his hand biting on the ice” but he was 3rd on the Canucks in goals in the regular season and tied for 1st in goals in the playoffs.

    I’m not high on Burrows for the future, simply because he’s at an age where productivity tends to decline. Of course, it isn’t expected that it will decline from his injury-riddled 2013-14 season.

    4. As for AV, the biggest complaint you can make to show a lack of heart and lack of learning seems to be that he chewed gum. It’s hard for me to find the correlation.

    • bossram

      Yes, Luongo doesn’t choke on clutch games.

      Kesler was the next messier.

      Burrows shows up all the time.

      AV is not inept and has won 2 cups already.

      Yes, I am wrong and a troll.

  • bossram

    “He’s also been about an average #1 since 2010-2011 in terms of stopping shots at 5-on-5, performing at a level similar to Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, and Ilya Bryzgalov.”

    I completely disagree with this absurd statement comparing Miller to Bryzgalov. Noone would pay $6mil a year for Bryzgalov. He can’t even get a job in the NHL this year. Miller is a far superior goalie to Bryzgalov and this is a really good signing for the Canucks. Miller is definitely worth the price and if he wasn’t he would be jobless like Bryzgalov. Benning is good GM and knows what he’s doing and wouldn’t have signed Miller if he didn’t know it was worth it.