Buffalo Sabres: Is Extending Miller the Answer?
The biggest signing since the dust settled from the July 1st free agency deadline would have to be Ryan Miller.
Though his contract wasn't set to expire until next year, the Sabres re-signed Miller to a five-year contract extension worth $31.25 million.
This means Buffalo has a starting goaltender for the next six years and a backup for at least two years. Miller and Patrick Lalime will be the tandem for the Buffalo Sabres for the next two seasons.
Miller posted 37 wins last season for the squad, but toward the end, when the Sabres still had slim hopes of making the playoffs, he complained of fatigue and placed the blame of losing games on his own shoulders.
It is my firm belief that question of whether it was fatigue or lack of talent that kept the Sabres out of the playoffs will be proven with Lalime filling in. Miller will be given a break when he needs it, but if he can't rebound afterward the Sabres may have made a big mistake in signing him long term.
I'm a skeptic of Miller's performance in net. This past year, he had a great period of success, but the defense was also performing. But the defense collapsed, and so Miller was left to play the position of three men.
He couldn't handle it.
If the defense (with the addition of Craig Rivet) does its job in the upcoming season and Miller lets in some soft goals, then GM Darcy Regier will have made a huge mistake in signing a weakening goaltender.
I say weakening because Miller was strong in 2005-2006 and decent in 2006-2007. Yes, I also say "decent" in '06-'07 because it was the Sabres' offense that made the team the best squad in the entire league (plus the defense was playing well throughout).
I can't tell you how many times the team rebounded from three-goal deficits to win games (I believe it was close to a dozen in that Presidents Trophy winning season), but Miller had let the team down early enough in a game that desperation hockey ensued and the best players came out as heroes (Drury/Briere/Vanek).
Now two out of the three great leaders from that team are no longer in Buffalo, and so it becomes the responsibilty of the "core players," as Regier calls them, to lead and lessen the load on Miller's shoulders.
If they can't do it, Lalime can't support it, and Miller falters, the management will suffer criticism equal to, if not greater than, that of the events that occurred when the Sabres failed to re-sign Drury and Briere.
That's all just one man's opinion on this situation. I honestly think that Regier and Quinn, the management duo of failures in Buffalo, should have been canned two years ago.
They are the do-nothing combination that has hindered the team more than they have helped it. The lack of activity from these two (and you could also say the lack of financial support from owner Tom Galisano) should have seen action immediately after the loss of both Drury and Briere.
That event will continually be referred to when thinking of the GM/ownership effort in the organization.
Firings should have occurred after the Sabres missed the playoffs because it became clear and evident that the Sabres missed the playoffs because they needed either Drury or Briere in the lineup.
Just one of them would have made a world of difference in the Sabres' season in 2007-2008.
They had two straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals, were President's Trophy winners, and then missed the playoffs. Two teams have done this (and gone on to win the Stanley Cup the year after the miss).
But nevertheless, a strong force in the league now becomes a mediocre squad. Now signing Ryan Miller is the changing factor? It's a minimal impact. The Sabres only dumped off slow and unmotivated defenseman Dmitri Kalinin. Other than that, the team is the same (with the questionable addition of Craig Rivet on defense).
Will the results change? Likely not. Expect the same results if nothing is changed more on the defense side and if Lalime doesn't perform a step above what the Sabres had in Thibault last season, and Conklin two seasons ago.
I'm hoping I am wrong because I love my Sabres, but I'd hate to see them out of the playoffs two years in a row after seeing two years of great success and progress.
Briere and Drury will forever haunt the franchise as the worst loss in the history of the club.
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