One of the worst-kept secrets in the NHL during the 2013-14 season was the fact that Thomas Vanek was set to become a free agent, and the Minnesota Wild were the team he would most likely sign with. Given the relationship Vanek has with former Buffalo Sabres teammate Jason Pominville, and his ties to the area, the move would appear to make sense on multiple levels.
However, after a very disappointing playoffs, it would make sense for the Wild to save the money they would spend on Vanek and instead target Ryan Miller.
Why? Well, I am glad you asked. Offensively the Wild have significant depth with Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, the aforementioned Pominville, captain Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and so on.
Would Vanek be a great swap for unrestricted free agent Dany Heatley? Of course, but goaltending is more of an issue for the Wild. Even if they signed Miller, odds are they'd have enough cap space to add someone that can be an upgrade for Heatley at a fraction of the price.
While a quick glance at the Wild roster on Cap Geek suggests that the team has a glut of goaltending, allow me to explain my thesis.
Niklas Backstrom is signed for the next two seasons, but he is an over-35-year-old netminder that could end up on injured reserve at a moment's notice. There is no telling how well he will play when he is healthy, and the Wild have too much talent to take a chance with goaltending.
You then might say, "What about Josh Harding?" I am glad you brought that up.
While Harding was great early on, his ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis makes him a wild card. There is no telling how healthy he will remain during the season, and having him penciled in as a backup or No. 3 goalie gives the Wild options and depth.
Next on the list is North America's favorite cosmonaut. Ilya Bryzgalov is a goalie that may be retained, but adding Miller would be a better fit. Lastly there is Darcy Kuemper, but he still could use another two years of seasoning with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.
So while Miller would be a good fit, why would he sign with the Wild? For starters, they meet his requirement of being a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup. The Wild have a blend of youth, veterans and players who are coming through the system.
He has a number of close friends on the team such as Pominville and Team USA buddies Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. The familiarity would give him a good reason to sign, but there is another reason he may end up signing there.
If not the Wild, where will Miller go? His wife is from the California area, but each area team has their goaltending situation established. In terms of other contenders, every team that made the playoffs, outside the Wild, has their goalie situation established.
The only wild card could be if Marc-Andre Fleury is jettisoned from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that would be a situation where Miller could slide in. I would mention the Chicago Blackhawks and Corey Crawford, but cap space could be an issue when you consider that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane need new contracts next season.
Who should Minnesota target?
Other than that, he really has nowhere else to go. He isn't going to return to the Buffalo Sabres. Would the Toronto Maple Leafs make a run for Miller? Given the Leafs' penchant for making big moves, it is highly possible, but it is unknown whether or not, Miller would head north of the border.
So in short, the Wild have a decent enough offense. In the playoffs they scored 2.69 goals per game, which currently ranks eighth overall.
In the regular season, they did score a paltry 2.43 goals per game, but that includes injuries that sidelined Parise, Koivu, Granlund and assorted others for an extended period. That also doesn't include the emergence of Niederreiter.
While another offensive threat could help, there is enough reason to believe that the team's offense will take a step forward next season, and the money that could be given to Vanek would be better spent on a goaltender like Miller.
It will be interesting to see where Miller ends up, especially since his options appear to be limited.
Stats via NHL.com.