There are many stories floating around about Ryan Miller these days, especially since he has been named the Third Star of the Week by the NHL. I’m not here to say that they’re undeserved, so don’t get the wrong idea. He leads the league in wins, GAA, and save percentage, so any accolades that come his way are well earned.
From a Buffalo point of view, I’m here to address the question: Why is Ryan Miller so important?
Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, I present my evidence.
Exhibit A – He is evidence that the front office made the right decisions the past few years.
The decisions to let Mike Grier and Jay McKee leave town back in 2006 were not popular among Sabres faithful. Marty Biron, Brian Campbell, Chris Drury, and Danny Briere leaving town over the course of the next couple dozen months or so nearly started a riot in Niagara Square. What did the Sabres brain trust do in response?
Re-sign Miller, Thomas Vanek, sign Craig Rivet, and draft Tyler Ennis, a top prospect in Portland of the AHL (with the pick from the Campbell trade).
McKee played himself out of a job with the Blues. Drury has played well with the Rangers, but not at the level in which he’s getting paid. Briere is always injured and has worn out his welcome in Philly. Campbell got paid $5 million to do what the Sabres paid Jaroslav Spacek $3 million to do last season. Grier has come back home to tutor Buffalo’s young prospects, and Marty Biron may be on his way out as well (I’m really hoping this will come to pass, anyway) after falling out of favor in Philly.
Cost-conscious? I think there is a crystal ball hidden somewhere on Washington Street. The decision to build the team around Miller has thus far resulted in a 12-4-1 record.
Exhibit B – He gives Buffalo star power on the national stage.
Miller always seems to have the experience necessary to make Buffalo relevant. Need a story on the state of American-born hockey players? Miller was born in Michigan. Need evidence that the Hobey Baker Award (the weird, ice-skating cousin to Heisman) is not meaningless? Miller won it in 2001. When the press needed an experienced outdoor player to interview during the first Winter Classic? Yep, there was Miller, who played in the “Cold War” game for Michigan State against Michigan in 2001. How about a commercial? There was the Amp Energy Drink ad campaign from 2008 (Yo Mama’s so ugly, she made an onion cry!).
Exhibit C – He gives Buffalo star power on the International stage.
International experience is not lacking here. Miller was a member of the 2001 USA Men’s team at the IIHF Men’s World Championship. He played on the team for the next two years, leading the tournament with a .949 save percentage at the 2002 IIHF Men’s World Championship and was second in the tournament with a 1.76 goals-against average.
The U.S. finished in fourth place in 2001 and seventh place in 2002. He even watched his cousin Kevin play in the 1988 Olympics. There were many people in Buffalo who were furious at Miller’s snub from the 2006 U.S. Olympic team in favor of Rick DiPietro (remember him? Me neither.)
And I seem to recall hearing something about a tournament in Vancouver this season…
Ryan Miller has already punched his ticket into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame as one of the most popular athletes in city history. He has brought a spotlight not seen in Buffalo since Dominik Hasek vacated the crease in HSBC Arena. His charitable work doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserves (his Steadfast Foundation aims to ease the suffering of cancer patients, most notable those living with childhood leukemia).
If he ever helps bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to Western New York, this is the man that everyone will clamor to hear at the podium. Why? Because he bleeds blue and sweats gold.