Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why I Have Hope: Ryan Miller

Let's start with an easy point: At the very least, Ryan Miller can't be worse than he was last year. (Note to Hockey Gods: That's hyperbole. It's not a challenge.) At the end of the season, he was clearly gassed but even before that he wasn't very good. He looked off, he seemed to get rattled a little more easily, he was jumpy on breakaways, and just plain awful in the shootout.

Ladies and gentlemen, our franchise goalie!

No, I kid, I kid. I like Ryan Miller. I think he's a good goalie for the Sabres as they're currently built. He's shown that he's capable of handling odd-man rushes and breakaways and he's shown the ability to be patient in the net and let the shooter make the first move. Considering our team defense is an interesting experience even on the best nights - though some of them are getting better - that's important. He's shown a desire to be good which should be a given for a professional athlete but unfortunately isn't. He's also shown a desire to be better than what he is right now. He was clearly disappointed in how last season went for both him and the team. He didn't hide it and he didn't try to make the final result prettier than it was. They underachieved, he underachieved and he copped to both.

I have hope that Ryan is still getting better. When news of his re-signing first broke I was surprised at how many people at Sabres Edge criticized him based on his age. Yeah, at 28 he's a few years older than a lot of the young guys on the team but I think he has a number of years to improve yet. I scoured the internet last night for some info on when goalies hit their prime and came up empty-handed, but I don't think goalies develop at the same rate as skaters, especially forwards. So much of the position is mental and a lot of that is going to come more with experience. Even though he's 28, Ryan's only been the starting goalie for three years. Three years is not a lot of time over the course of a career, and I don't see why anyone as smart and driven as Ryan can't continue to improve especially since he's still kind of figuring out what works for his unique body and frame. And hello, in three years he's had one bad season and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances. In the first one he and the team were this close before being struck down by some hateful power and the Sabres were only in the second one because he dragged their sorry butts that far.

And come on, who embodies hope right now more than Ryan Miller? Did you see his press conference? It was practically a love fest. Even the media seemed happy. (I know!) Ryan loves Buffalo, loves management, loves the coaching staff, loves his teammates and loves us. He believes in what the team is doing and he believes in the guys in the room and instead of just paying lip service to that, he put his money where his mouth was and made a long-term commitment to the organization. That's awesome. I liked the team before this contract, but after a year of other people telling us that no one wants to play here and management has a horrible reputation among players and Ryan Miller was never going to choose to stay with a bunch of cheap-ass losers, it's pretty darn nice to find out those big talkers don't know everything.

One of my favorite pictures ever. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


Kate said...

Great post Heather! ANd that picture gives me happy shivers!

Lee Andrew said...

For some reason I like Ryan Miller. I haven't thought of a nickname for him yet though. I was thinking maybe something with "Thriller" but I'm pretty sure you're required to be able to do the dance from the Michael Jackson video for that one and I don't know about Miller's dance skills.

Kate said...

Lee you like Ryan because he is hilarious (hilariously cranky, that is) and all-around awesome. He already has a nickname: Crunchy. Or, Millsie if you're into that kind of thing. :P I'm willing to bet Crunchy is a good dancer actually.

Becky said...

Hasek didn't start hitting his prime until he was 28...That worked out well.

Jennifer said...

Things are falling into place. Keep your hope. This is going to be a great season!

Mark B said...

Ryan's press conference reminded me why he was my runner-up for favorite player before last season started. He really is a natural leader, but I think at times last year he was pressing to be more than he needed to be and it affected his game. That can be said for a lot of guys on the team, namely Vanek.

I expect Ryan to rebound in a big way next season and that alone will put us in the playoffs.

Vanek's Hair said...

The Sabres will be fine with Miller. He has proven he is a capable starting goaltender at worst. Those are hard to come by. Besides, what is plan B between the pipes after next season had Miller not been signed? Enroth? Management isn't sure he is AHL ready now, so I doubt he will be NHL ready in 12 months. And if Enroth emerges as the second coming of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Bernie Parent and Dom Hasek all rolled into one, then Miller presents a tremedous asset with huge trade value somewhere down the road.

Anne M said...

I have a million reasons for loving Ryan Miller, but I'm just going to post these two:

1. A few years ago when the Amerks were in the playoffs and he was still on the farm, the other goalie (I can't even remember who it was at the moment) was having a terrible night in a playoff game. I was sitting behind the Amerks bench, and people around me started chanting, "We want Miller." It started to get louder and louder, and the other guy was also right in front of us, and Miller finally turned around and drew his finger across his throat to get people to knock it off. And they did. Very low-key, but totally classy.

2. The Sabres played a game in Rochester against the Capitals and they were really awful (the Sabres). After the game, my friend and I were, um, stalking the bus to see the players (two 30-yr-olds and a few dozen kids looking for autographs ...). Some of the players were obviously just looking to get on the bus and put the bad game behind them, but Miller was mobbed by kids and he signed everything and talked to all of them. I heard one of the kids say, "Sorry about the game." Miller said, "Did you have fun?" The kid responded, "YEAH!!!" and Miller said, "That's all that matters then."

I really think it's little moments like those that show you what kind of person he is. He wasn't being nice to the kids to impress anyone--I doubt he even saw me and my friend standing there. He was just being the person he is.

Sorry for the long comment.

Jennifer said...

Awesome Miller stories, AnneM. He seems like a really classy guy and I'm glad he's staying in Buffalo.

GregK said...

"I scoured the internet last night for some info on when goalies hit their prime and came up empty-handed,"

Backy already mentioned it but it bears repeating, and quite frankly shouting out. Dom Hasek was acquired by the Sabres in 92-93 at 28 years old and split that season with Darren Puppa, Grant Fuhr and remember this guy, Tom Draper. He wasn't the clear starter until 93-94, the year he turned 29 years old. So there :p

Heather B. said...

Anne, I love both stories about Ryan but especially the second one. I think you have to appreciate any player who goes out of his way to create a special moment for young fans. That's awesome.

So we're saying Ryan is the next Hasek, right? That totally works for me :P

Vanek's Hair said...

"So we're saying Ryan is the next Hasek, right? That totally works for me :P"

Oh no! So we are going to have another Vodka loving, weak groined locker room cancer??!!

Beanie said...

I think Miller has proven how classy he is when he refused to bag his ex team mates Drury and Briere for leaving Buffalo even though there was pressure to do so. He obviously has a huge heart both for community and the team and that means a hell of a lot. The examples above just prove it again.

As for goalies improving with age - look at Chris Osgood. He is easily the best now he has ever been in his career and he is what 35 now? He has reinvented himself and his concentration and poise has just gotten better and better, even if some don't think he is a good goalie you can't argue with how he has improved.

Got to ask though, what is it with the nickname Crunchy?