Before the Buffalo Sabres finished cleaning out the locker of Thomas Vanek and welcoming Matt Moulson, people were openly wondering when goaltender Ryan Miller would be traded. Just like Vanek, the 32-year-old Miller will be a free agent after the season and would likely bring a nice return for the rebuilding Sabres.
Miller carries a $6.25 million cap hit and despite a goals-against average north of three (3.13) and 1-9-0 record, his save percentage of .914 ranks him 14th among goaltenders with at least seven starts through Monday. The Sabres rank 29th in shots allowed per game (35.2), so a move to team with a better overall defense could result in better numbers for Miller.
Throw in the fact that Miller has reached the conference finals twice and was a goal away from winning gold for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and it's easy to see why teams would consider him a valuable commodity for a stretch run.
According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN/TSN, Sabres GM Darcy Regier doesn't have any offers for Miller right now.
"But having said that, Thomas is the only one that I had trade conversations with, with respect to our respective unrestricted free agents. So maybe it will get delayed and things will get pushed into the trade deadline, I don’t know."
In other words, despite all the talk about Ryan Miller's future -- the goaltender is also a UFA after the season -- it doesn’t sound like anything is imminent.
"No, all’s quiet right now," Regier said of trade talks for Miller.
But we can speculate, and here are five most likely destinations from least likely to most likely that make the most sense for Miller to land between now and the March 5 trade deadline.
5. Washington Capital—The Capitals have two young goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, and Holtby has proven to be a reliable starter in the playoffs. In 21 career postseason games over the past two seasons, Holtby has a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage. But he has limited experience as a starter with most of it coming during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. If Holtby can't get his game together (He ranks 20th in save percentage at .913) and Neuvirth fails to pick him up, Miller could be a nice short-term option in D.C. The problem is cap space—the Capitals have less than $600,000 in room, according to CapGeek—but if GM George McPhee is compelled, he could find a way to make a deal.
4. Philadelphia Flyers—It wouldn't be a list discussing teams potentially interested in landing a goaltender if it didn't include the Flyers. The goalie position was a big question mark entering the season, but Steve Mason has been outstanding. His .930 save percentage ranks him in the top 10 in the league while his 3-5-0 record has more to do with the Flyers' 28th-ranked offense. A lot can change between now and the trade deadline, but even if Mason continues to play well, that may not stop GM Paul Holmgren from landing a goaltender with big-game experience. The Flyers have a shade under $4 million in cap space, which means they'd have to part with someone on their roster, or the Sabres would have to retain a portion of Miller's salary.
3. New York Islanders—Sure, they just traded Moulson and two draft picks to the Sabres for Vanek, but defense and goaltending are the real troubling issues for the Islanders. The 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov (2.85 GAA, .908 save percentage) has seen his save percentage dip in every season since 2009-10. Islanders GM Garth Snow said in the wake of the Vanek/Moulson trade that the his organization was rich in young talent—Hockey's Future considers their prospects the fifth-best in the league—so perhaps he could pry Miller from the Sabres near the deadline. Cap space isn't an issue for the Islanders, but owner Charles Wang's willingness—or lack thereof—to add payroll could be an obstacle.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning—Under new coach Jon Cooper, the Lightning are looking less like the also-ran they were last season and more like a team that will contend for a playoff spot this season. They have a pair of young goaltenders with tremendous upside in Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. The Lightning are winning with offense, averaging 3.36 goals per game, third-best mark in the league. But they are allowing 2.82 goals per game, which ranks 19th in the league. If GM Steve Yzerman doesn't see that trend change, he could part with Bishop or Lindback for the more experienced Miller. The Lightning have about $4.3 million in cap space, so it wouldn't take much to swing a deal.
|2013-14 Team Save Percentage for Potential Miller Destinations|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||.900||25th|
|New York Islanders||.901||24th|
1. Edmonton Oilers—"This is the year" has been the cry for the Oilers for the past few years, yet they have not made the playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and are struggling at the outset this season. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk is far from the biggest culprit in the Oilers' 3-8-2 start, but his 4.01 GAA and .878 save percentage are ghastly. Now Dubnyk is dealing with an ankle injury, leaving career backups Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachmann in net. According to Hockey's Future, the Oilers' have the third-best group of prospects in the NHL, so it wouldn't hurt GM Craig MacTavish to part with someone to land a bona fide No. 1 goaltender in Miller. Cap space is not an issue for Edmonton.