If Bo Horvat weren’t named Canucks MVP at the end of the season, most would say Ryan Miller was most deserving. After the Roberto Luongo debacle had come to an end three years ago, the Canucks were in the free-agent market for a starting goaltender. Known by many Canucks fans as Team USA’s great goalie at the 2010 Winter Olympics, the team had landed an ageing, although still solid goaltender on July 1st.
For a team that was at the crossroads with regards to their state and direction, Miller was brought in to keep the team competitive as they transitioned young players at the cost of the older veterans. During his three-year contract, Miller helped lead the Canucks to an unexpected playoff appearance in 2014-15. In the following two years, it was all downhill for the most part. Despite the negativity surrounding the team, Ryan Miller was most definitely one of the positive stories.
Although his statistics appear to be far from impressive, the numbers fail to show how valuable Miller was to the Canucks this season. Goal support simply wasn’t there for him. The team averaged a measly 2.17 goals per game, which ranked them 2nd-last in the league. You can’t win games without scoring, hence the large difference between his wins and losses. The defence, although still mediocre, was better. Miller managed to keep his goals-against average lower than the team’s 2.94 goals-against per game. His 0.914 SV% was also slightly higher than the league-average 0.913 SV%. He had average numbers on a below-average team.
Ryan Miller’s numbers this season were solid, especially given the fact that he played on a team who finished second-last in the league. He had an excellent year given the Canucks’ circumstances. For a majority of the season, he was the reason why the team stayed competitive in games. When they struggled to score goals (which was most of the season), Miller kept it relatively tight to give the team a chance. Let’s face it: if Ryan Miller weren’t on the team, the season could’ve been significantly worse than it already was. For many, he was the Canucks’ most valuable player and was deserving of the Cyclone Taylor Trophy.
When an outright loss was foreseeable based on the team’s performance, they somehow managed to walk away with a single point. How? Ryan Miller. The team was middling throughout a good portion of the season because of those points that they didn’t necessarily deserve.
With his 3-year, $18 million contract over, the Canucks have made it known that they’d like to re-sign their starting goaltender. At the tender age of 36 (turning 37 in July), there are questions as to how much Miller could ask for, as well as the term. Based on his play this year, the number could be in roughly the same ballpark as what he initially signed for, give or take a million or so. The Canucks could take a smaller cap hit if they commit to two years, although keeping a goaltender until he’s 39 brings about many unknowns. On the other hand, a one-year deal brings about a more comfortable goalie situation at the expense of a higher salary.
That Jacob Markstrom is under contract for three years at a cap hit of $3.66 million makes things tricky. The case to re-sign Miller is only reinforced by Markstrom’s average performance this season. He was thought to be the heir to the starting goalie position when Miller’s contract was over, but some remain unconvinced that he is ready. Markstrom appeared determined at the season-ending press conference, reiterating his desire to play more games and be the starting goaltender. Having turned 27 in January, Markstrom should be in the prime of his career. Re-signing Ryan Miller for one year, let alone two years, may be difficult for Markstrom to digest.
Although many focus solely on the business side of the NHL, there is also the personal aspect. Miller 36-year-old and on the latter end of his successful (performance and money-wise) career. He hasn’t won a Stanley Cup, and there are far better options other than Vancouver to achieve it. We will likely see a decline in his play next season, though he could still demand a decent salary. He’s made a fairly decent $57.4 million in his career, and his wife is also a successful actress. It’s highly unlikely that money is a significant factor in where he signs.
Based on his interviews towards the end of the season, it seemed obvious that Miller wanted to be closer to his family. His wife and three-year-old son are living in California and have limited opportunities to see Miller during the season. When he speaks of them during interviews, it’s obvious that he wants to be with them more.
Although Vancouver is just a few hours away from where his family resides in Los Angeles, the Kings’ recent trade of Ben Bishop will certainly capture the Millers’ interest. He wouldn’t get the same amount of playing time as he could with the Canucks, but he might not mind if it means he can spend more time with family.
Despite the negativity of the past two seasons, Ryan Miller has provided the Canucks with stable goaltending and a chance to compete in every game. While the team undergoes its rebuild, he’s been the anchor for what could’ve been an incredibly rocky ship. If he cannot find a contract with one of the California teams, expect Miller to be back in a Canucks uniform for his fourth year.
Here are some of his highlights from this season: