Canucks Ryan Miller's New Beginning Out West

When the Buffalo Sabres traded goaltender Ryan Miller, it was clear that he could not put in the effort to finish his career with the Sabres. On February 28, 2014 he got his wish and was traded to the Blues, like so many had expected. This was a pivotal move for St. Louis, who were peaking at the right time and hoping to solidify their crease with an NHL veteran netminder like Miller.

In 19 games with the Blues last season Miller backstopped the club to a 10-8-1 record while he adjusted to his new team in preparation of a long NHL playoff run. The playoff were a totally different story for the Blues, and especially the play of Miller. The Blues took a commanding 2-0 lead in the first round series against the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Hawks were the better team winning the next four games to take the series 4-2 and eliminate St. Louis.

What happened to a Blues team that was so hyped up and predicted to do so well? While the team struggled to score offensively, the play of Miller was not up to what most hockey fans expected. In the team’s home games against the Hawks, even though the Blues won both, Miller seemed to struggle giving up six goals in two games, and to make things worse, the Blues offense only produced six goals in the next four losing efforts.

When the Blues traded for the 33-year-old Miller, they were also auditioning him for a possible contract extension. Miller’s numbers were not impressive enough to show general manager Doug Armstrong that he was worth the risk with his 2-4 record in the playoffs, a 2.70 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.

The Blues did not ponder the question very long, as the team signed 29 year-old goaltender Brian Elliot in May to a three-year deal worth an average annual value of $2.6 million, making him the starting goaltender moving forward, and promoting rookie goaltender Jake Allen to the back-up position.

Which brings us to the Vancouver Canucks. The organization needed to make moves on the ice last offseason, but a culture change in the front office was long overdue as well. On April 8, 2014 the Canucks fired Mike Gillis as general manager after six season with the team. In searching for a replacement manager, the Canucks took their time to find the right candidate with an extensive interview process to get down to one man to add change to an organization which seemed to be in disarray.

On May 23, 2014 the Vancouver Canucks officially announced that they have hired former Boston Bruins Assistant General Manager Jim Benning. Benning has an impressive list of many titles throughout his career in the NHL systems of the Anaheim Ducks, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Bruins. With Benning’s ties to the Sabres organization in the past, it is believed that he played a key part in persuading Miller to sign with the Canucks (in addition to Millers’s desire to move to the west coast in order to be closer to his wife, who is an actress living in California).

The Vancouver Canucks were a team that needed a goaltender, and a team that could make some moves to shed salary to offer Miller a deal that both sides could be happy with. On June 27, 2014 Benning used his first act as general manager to trade long time Canuck center Ryan Kesler, and a third round pick in 2015, to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Nick Bonino. defenseman Luca Sbisa, a first, and third round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

With Kesler’s $5 million cut from the teams budget, it was obvious that they had enough space to make Miller an offer. On July 1, 2014 GM Benning, and the Canucks agreed to a three-year, $18 million contract to make him the new number one goaltender in Vancouver, but would the risk/reward factor payoff with a goaltender that has been on a downward slope through his past two seasons?

Miller’s season so far in 12 appearances with his new team has impressed not only management, but has given life back to a franchise that was in much need of a “boost in the right direction”. Miller has a record of 11-2-0 on a Canucks team that is currently 12-5-0 and tied for first in the NHL with 24 points. His goals against average (2.46) and save percentage (.910) have shown so far that he was the right choice to backstop this team to a competitive season.

The goal was clear when Benning was hired: to get back into the post-season after a five-year playoff streak was abruptly snapped last year after a terrible 2013-14 season. The Canucks did not qualify for the playoffs, finishing fifth in the Pacific Division with a 36-35-11 record.

With so many talented teams in the Western Conference like the Blackhawks, Blues, Ducks, Kings, Predators, and Wild, it is going to be interesting to see if Miller and the Canucks can be a force and stay competitive at the top of the Conference. There is no doubt Miller is going to get a bulk of the work in the crease, and it’s all going to be on the 34 year-old from Lansing, Michigan, who has yet to make an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

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