With the team sitting in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and its chances of the making the playoffs very small, the Sabres could begin to think about rebuilding their team.
How does Miller fit in with the team's long-term plans? Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos talked about Miller's future in Buffalo during the latest edition of Hockey Central Insiders (click here for full video):
The other interesting name that is starting to float around, is yes, Ryan Miller. Ryan Miller's got another year at over $6.0 million next season, but he's not going to get a contract extensions and it's time to move on off of Ryan Miller.
They'd dearly love to move him at the deadline, but with that shrinking goaltender market out there it might not be the case. They might have to wait until the summer or even into next season.
But Ryan Miller's days are numbered in Buffalo.
Should the Sabres part ways with Miller and begin to rebuild?
Yes, the club's current core of players is not going to contend for the Stanley Cup, and the best decision that general manager Darcy Regier can make for the franchise's future is to trade his starting goaltender for a package that could include young NHL players, top prospects and draft picks. Cody Hodgson is the team's only young star at forward, and other than Tyler Myers (who's had a terrible season), there is very little young talent on the blue line.
Buffalo has spent a lot of money since Terry Pegula took over as the team's owner in 2010, but playoff success has not resulted from the increased amount of funds that management has been given to use in free agency and the trade market.
It's time for the Sabres to start drafting and developing more homegrown players, and since the 2013 draft class is so strong, this is the perfect year to stockpile first, second and third round picks.
Many of the Sabres' best players have just one more year left on their contract, and if the team is going to rebuild, trading these players before they can leave in free agency must be considered.
|Player||Age||Position||Salary Cap Hit||FA Status|
|Thomas Vanek||29||LW||$7.143 million||UFA 2014|
|Jason Pominville||30||RW||$5.3 million||UFA 2014|
|Tyler Ennis||23||C||$2.812 million||RFA 2014|
|Steve Ott||30||C||$2.95 million||UFA 2014|
|Ryan Miller||32||G||$6.25 million||UFA 2014|
Parting ways Miller would be a good first step for the Sabres if they choose to rebuild, but they must wait until the right deal comes along before trading him, because if this team is going to undergo a successful rebuild in the near future, it must get as much value for Miller as possible.
He's arguably the team's most valuable trade chip because of his No. 1 goalie status. It should also be noted that Miller has a no-trade clause in his contract, and according to Capgeek, he "can list eight teams he will not accept a trade to."
Since there is no one on Buffalo's roster or in their organization who's capable of being the No. 1 netminder of the future, the Sabres should look for Miller's future replacement via trade. Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier would be a great fit for this team. He is an RFA at the end of the season, and since Jonathan Quick is the No. 1 goalie in LA, it's possible that the Kings could move Bernier this season.
Kypreos mentions in the passage above that the Sabres may look to trade Miller in the summer rather than before the April 3 trade deadline, and I think that's the best scenario. The number of teams that could be looking for goaltending will probably be larger in the summer when clubs lose free agents and players are bought out.
Miller is still an elite player, and since he's only 32 years old, he should be a No. 1 goalie for many more years. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2010 and has played well in high-pressure situations throughout his career (Winter Olympics included).
As the chart below shows, his stats have been consistently impressive over the last four seasons, especially when you consider the fact that the Sabres have not played well defensively over the last two years.
The number of quality goaltenders expected to hit the free agent market this summer is small (per Capgeek), and includes players such as Niklas Backstrom, Evgeni Nabokov, Tim Thomas (who is not playing in 2013), Mike Smith, and Jimmy Howard.
It's hard to imagine the Phoenix Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings failing to re-sign Smith and Howard, respectively, so there will likely be no franchise goaltenders for teams to pursue in free agency during the offseason.
This means that Miller could be the best option for playoff contenders that think they are a goaltending upgrade away from competing for the Stanley Cup.
Miller and the one year remaining on his contract is a better solution for a contending team's goaltending woes than Vancouver Canucks star Roberto Luongo (nine more years left on his contract) or Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov (if he's bought out in the summer and becomes a UFA).
Depending on how free agency goes and which players are bought out, there could be several playoff contenders looking for goaltending help in the summer, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers and the Flyers.
There's no rush to trade Miller because he is under contract for next season and there is still a slight chance Buffalo will make the playoffs this season, but if he's not part of the team's long-term plans, it would be wise of the Sabres to see what kind of value he has on the trade market.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.
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