Ever since the Buffalo Sabres committed to tanking, suffering, whatever you want to call it, the assumption among most fans is that their top two impending free agents, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, would be sold to the highest bidder in order to help facilitate the rebuild.
Vanek has already been dealt to the Islanders (Ed note: seems like things are going well over there) and with Miller's contract up at the end of the season, the new Sabres GM would be tasked with fetching the highest price for the Olympic goaltender. Or so we all thought.
Today, Ted Nolan may have thrown a monkey wrench in to those plans, with his praise of Miller, and stressing the importance of good golatending. Here's what Nolan had to say:
You look at all championship teams, it starts from the goaltending out. You build around him versus using him as a pawn to try get something to make you better. We’ve got one of the better goaltenders in the world here and I talked to Pat about this and I said, ‘The one thing we want to do is create an environment where people want to come here and stay here’, so hopefully he likes what we’re doing and you never know.
What Nolan's basically saying is, "We've already got a great player at an important position, so why deal him as opposed to building around him?" It's a decent point, but it comes with a few big question marks.
First and foremost is the contract it would require to keep Miller in Buffalo. The Rangers recently signed Henrik Lundqvist to just such a deal, and those numbers were seven years at $8.5 million per year. Miller might not command numbers quite that high, but they'd certainly be close, especially if a new GM has to convince the star goalie to stay on a rebuilding squad.
Something else to consider is Miller's age. At 33 year old, the veteran tender still has a few good season left in the tank, but will his play start to tail off at 35, or 38? Signing him to a long extension, which he'd certainly be looking for at his age, is a gamble that he can have a Brodeur-like resistance to the effects of age. It's a big gamble for a franchise that might not be ready to compete for a Cup for anywhere from two to five years.
Still, a very reliable, consistent goaltender capable of stealing games every now and then is not an easy commodity to come by, and it might be in the Sabres best interests to keep Miller around while they focus no building a better forward corps and solidifying their defense.
Where do you think Miller belongs in the Sabres future - as a member of the next core, or as a bargaining chip to acquire more future talent that won't see the ice until 2015?