Updates from Tuesday, July 1
Spector's Hockey reports Ryan Miller and the Canucks have agreed to a contract:
Ryan Miller to Vancouver, 3 years, $6 million per.— Spector's Hockey (@SpectorsHockey) July 1, 2014
Ryan Miller's first foray into unrestricted free agency appears to have the Team USA hero on the verge of taking his talents north of the border.
The Vancouver Canucks will host the free-agent goaltender on Monday, where they are expected to make a concerted effort to make Miller one of their first offseason splashes. Jason Botchford of The Province first reported the news, noting that Miller arrived in Vancouver over the weekend in preparation for the meeting.
Miller, 33, spent his first 10-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before being traded to the St. Louis Blues midway through last season. Although he performed admirably during the regular season in St. Louis, his struggles in the playoffs helped pave way for a first-round exit. Miller stopped only 89.7 percent of his shots in the Blues' six-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Initially expected to garner interest for a return, the Blues moved on by re-signing Brian Elliott to a three-year deal. Elliott and Jake Allen are expected to mind the pipes next season for the Central Division runner up.
The changing of the guard made Miller an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. The Canucks, needing someone to pair with Eddie Lack, have been aggressive in their early pursuit. General manager Jim Benning has been open about his goal to return to the playoffs next season and said Miller might prove one of the missing pieces.
“It could be,” Benning said, per Botchford. “He could be the guy. We want to make the playoffs next year. Our goal is to make the playoffs every year and develop young players in a winning environment. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
After winning five consecutive division championship, Vancouver surprisingly dropped out of contention and missed the playoffs in 2013-14. The disappointing campaign caused a massive upheaval in the former core, with mainstays like Roberto Luongo being traded mid-season.
Benning, 51, took over as general manager in May and has continued retooling the roster. Last week, he sent disgruntled center Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks in a multi-player deal that also brought a first and third-round pick. The Canucks selected Canadian center Jared McCann with that first-round selection.
Miller, best remembered as the hero on Team USA's silver medal team at the 2010 Olympics, would only add to the new-look Canucks roster. The former All-Star finished last season with a 2.64 goals against average, ranking right in the middle among qualifying players. While his star never quite reached the level it has on the international level, Miller is a fine NHL starter who would help keep Vancouver cap room to improve in other ways.
Miller also benefits from being one of the relative few marquee goaltenders on the open market. Jonas Hiller is the only other goalie who is both young enough and good enough to compete for a No. 1 spot. Veterans Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas and Tomas Vokoun are also available but are in the stage of their career where being a backup—or, at the very least a 50-50 timeshare—is for the best.
The Canucks are a match because they're among the few teams looking for a top option and have money to spend. Rebuilding teams do not typically like to spend multiyear deals on aging goaltenders, and most teams in Stanley Cup contention already have their net filled. As Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports points out, the pairing comes down to a basic logic for both sides:
The wooing I expect VAN did with Ryan Miller: "We're the only team in your desired geography that sorta needs a goalie. Here's what we pay."— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 30, 2014
Then again, there have been perfect matches in free agency that haven't worked out before. The key to the open market is always in the gory financial details, and Miller has made no public proclamations over what he thinks he's worth.
If that price is more than Vancouver is willing to pay, Hiller or one of the aforementioned veterans might be brought in as a stopgap. If there is an amenable middle ground, though, there's little reason for Miller to leave Vancouver without a deal getting done.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.