Terry Pegula has been in search of creating a Stanley Cup Champion, that has not changed. In fact, that has been reinforced. That is stronger than ever. It may require some suffering."
That line from Darcy Regier is probably the most memorable line from Monday's season ending press conference. It's also Regier's most regrettable line as he later clarified that suffering was the wrong word to use, patience was better. But, looking at the offseason ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, suffering may be the right word when it comes to debating the status of the franchises' two biggest stars in Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek.
Ryan Miller is one of 62 goaltenders that have ever played 500 games in the NHL. Only 20 of those goaltenders have ever played 500 games with one team and 12 have played their first 500 with one team. Yet, game number 501 of Ryan Miller's career seems more and more like it would be with another team. Miller's career with the Sabres has been interesting over the past ten years. He has led the team to two Eastern Conference finals and has one Vezina trophy to his name. Over 500 games, Miller has a career 2.59 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
Miller has survived some ups and downs in his career. Back in 2003 when he went through a brief stretch of allowing 13 goals in two games, including seven goals on home ice to his hometown childhood team. Those early poor performances have always resonated with Miller throughout his career as he continually references how he felt early in many recent press conferences.
Over the final few weeks of the season, Ryan Miller has seemed more and more resigned to moving on from the Buffalo Sabres. One of the more lasting legacies that Miller may have is that fateful game against the Rangers on April 19th. Miller was mercifully pulled after allowing 4 goals on 14 shots and acknowledged the crowd's mock cheer when he actually did make a save. During last Saturday's locker room clean out, Miller acknowledged that he really has no control over his future.
Thomas Vanek has been the Buffalo Sabres leading scorer six out of the last seven seasons. He is the offensive face of the franchise now after Jason Pominville was traded to the Minnesota Wild. A first round pick in 2003, Vanek has grown in the eight seasons that he has been in the league. From being a healthy scratch in the 2005 playoffs to a leader of the team, Vanek may be the most essential forward the Sabres have at the moment.
The Sabres have to figure out how they are going to replace these players before they make a decision on whether to move them. Miller's current replacement, Jhonas Enroth, is a restricted free agent that will be looking for a raise. If the Sabres trade Miller before settling that deal, all of the restricted leverage they have will have disappeared. In the case of Thomas Vanek, the Sabres need to figure out where the offensive scoring is going to come from. The 2013 Sabres only had three players that managed to score double digit goals, tied with Dallas, Nashville, San Jose and Winnipeg for the lowest total in the season. Over the past couple of seasons, if Thomas Vanek isn't scoring, then the team as a whole is struggling to score.
Selling a couple more seasons of struggling is going to be tough, but Sabres fans are a bunch that will continue to show up. The team is going to have to because the 2013-14 season slogan is probably going to be "Suffering Our Way To A Stanley Cup."