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.
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.
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.
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.