2019-20 Season Stats: 51 GP | 1 G | 10 A | 11 PTS
Contract Status: Signed through 2021-22 ($3.875 Million)
There are quite a few Buffalo Sabres on the 2019-20 roster who are perhaps a bit more difficult to grade than most. Veteran defenseman, Colin Miller is one of those players. Fans were mostly thrilled when he was acquired via trade this summer from the Vegas Golden Knights. For the small cost of a second-round pick in 2021, and a fifth-round-pick in 2022, the return seemed more than reasonable for a solidifying force in the Sabres’ top-four.
Early in the season, Miller struggled adjusting to Ralph Krueger’s system in Buffalo. In fact, he was a negative impact player in terms of xGF-percentage until the end of December. Part of it probably had to do with the aforementioned adjustment, but inconsistent ice time, and frequent stints as a healthy scratch may have contributed as well.
For the first 11 games of the year, Miller spent most of his time with Rasmus Dahlin. Between then and the end of December, he spent sporadic amounts time with a handful of other partners, and peppered within that span, his frequent trips to the healthy scratch list occurred.
Interestingly enough, Miller and Dahlin’s respective rolling xGF% charts follow similar trends. Both players struggled at the start of the season, but once they were reunited for the final couple months of the year (which matches almost perfectly with their respective dramatic xG upticks), they started to really click as a pairing. Prior to the suspension of the 2019-20 campaign, they were probably the most consistent duo on the blue line.
The situation is a bit two-sided. Miller spent far more time with Dahlin than anyone else at five-on-five this season, so it’s tough to make a fair comparison as it relates to partner chemistry. The closest somewhat reasonable sample size to look at is his time with Henri Jokiharju (111:16 compared to 355:51 with Dahlin).
Though 111 minutes is still what is considered a “small” sample size, Miller did show well with the 20-year-old, posting a relative-Corsi of 3.61-percent. That pairing was mutually beneficial in the sense that each of them experienced an almost even uptick in that area (roughly three-percent) versus their metrics with other Sabre defenders.
Alongside Dahlin, Miller’s relative-Corsi was still solid at 2.46 on the year. What’s interesting is that Dahlin’s overall average without Miller is almost exactly the same at 2.42-percent, while Miller experienced about a one-percent uptick.
In terms of relative xG on the year, Miller topped the list of current Sabres defensemen (Marco Scandella was the runaway leader before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens).
When looking at all of the Sabres’ most consistent defensive pairings this season, Miller shows as one of the better presences in terms of xG, and is somewhere in the middle of pack in relative Corsi. When looking at the metrics, he was likely one of the team’s best four defensemen this year, and certainly one of the top-six.
Despite his early struggles, there probably wasn’t any real cause for him to be Krueger’s most consistent scapegoat on the back-end. While someone like Brandon Montour may be the bigger name, with more attractive box score numbers, it’s tough to understand how he was given a free pass all season despite showing near the bottom of the list in both categories, while struggling with multiple partners.
The same goes for a player like Zach Bogosian, who had absolutely no business suiting up for any game ahead of Miller (or anyone else for that matter). Another layer of weird in all of this is the fact that Krueger would handle a player that way after his GM just traded multiple assets for him that summer. It leads one to question whether or not he and Jason Botterill were ever truly on the same page going into the season.
As for grading, the letter you assign Miller probably directly correlates to how you feel about Krueger. On paper, a player you expect to serve as a top-four defender who winds up spending significant time as a healthy scratch, would probably receive a low grade. In looking at the data, Miller’s figurative short leash never seemed justified however (at least not to the extent he experienced), and for that reason, it almost feels like you could justify an “incomplete” grade.
For this exercise, if we assume that a “C” indicates that the player met expectations, then that’s probably about fair. For a guy who devoured bottom-pairing minutes in Vegas, he did well in a revised role, when given the chance. The bad start must be factored in, but for as rough as that was, his mid-year leap was equally impactful. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff allow he and Dahlin to try and pick up where they left off to begin the 2021-22 campaign.
Season Grade: C