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Miller: Sabres weren’t Cup contenders after summer spending spree

Mar 23, 2012, 11:21 AM EDT

Ryan Miller AP

Last summer was an exciting time for Buffalo Sabres fans. New owner Terry Pegula opened his gigantic wallet to sign free agents Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, plus the club took on Robyn Regehr’s sizable salary in a trade.

All of a sudden the Sabres were Stanley Cup contenders. Well, except for one little thing: they actually weren’t.

That’s just one of the things Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun in a candid interview.

“This is by no means an excuse, but I think being labeled as ‘Cup Contenders’ simply because of hype and our change in ownership hurt our mentality and approach. Instead of building toward smaller goals as a team and creating the culture and identity of a championship-caliber team, we skipped major steps in our approach,” said Miller.

“Plus, we didn’t earn or deserve the label at all, so instead of growing and building in a positive light toward being contenders by playing the games and going through the challenges, we were constantly viewed as failing in every situation in the fans’ eyes and in the media, and we had to constantly answer for something that I don’t think we should have been labeled.”

From Nov. 19 to Jan. 21, the Sabres went 7-17-5 and fell nine points out of a playoff spot. Since then, however, they’re 16-5-5 and one point out of a playoff spot.

Related: Playoff bubble watch — Buffalo Sabres edition

  1. firstandonlywarning - Mar 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    If you thought they were anything more the an improved club that should make the playoffs you’re a foolish boy.

    I don’t think anyone outside of Buffalo ever called them “cup contenders”

    Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr…….made them contenders?

  2. bcisleman - Mar 23, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    The 1994 Rangers are the exception that proves the rule. You don’t build a Cup winner from wheeling and dealing in free agents and trades. Stanley Cup winners are built through the draft and finishing touches are added by trade and free agency.

    Even the 1994 Ranger team was not wholly built by wheeling and dealing. Key players Mike Richter and Brian Leetch were draft picks. And the glory of the Cup win faded quickly for the Rangers because Neil Smith had to trade away the team’s future to get the players he needed. A long playoff drought followed within a few years during which the Rangers went from one free agent great hope to another. Ultimately, it was a 6th round pick in the 2000 draft who proved to be the salvation of the franchise. For all the hype about the big names the Rangers have brought in over the years, it was the drafting and patient development of Henrik Lundqvist that redeemed the Rangers.

    All of this is by way of underlining Miller’s point. You cannot buy the Cup. The Rangers hit upon a unique moment in history when the last of the great hockey dynasties was being sold off at once and, by mortgaging their future managed to purchase the Cup. That will never happen again. There is just no substitute for slowly, patiently, and painfully building a winner.

  3. rabidbillsfan - Mar 23, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    I get what your saying bcisleman, but what i don’t think you understand is that more than 3/4 of the Sabres roster is home-grown, something that has been a point of contention here in Buffalo. Guys like Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Kaleta, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, etc., are all from the Sabres development program. Here in Buffalo, it was thought that Lindy valued these guys too much to be replaced with better talent, talent that was on the FA market, or to trade them to acquire better talent. Yes, you can’t “buy” a championship, but to say Pegula built this team through FA is untrue. Buffalo has a solid core of talent, how are we to upgrade if we don’t spend in FA or make trades? A draft prospect, ecpsecially those not taken in the Top-10, can take up to 3 years to develop into a NHL contributor. Buffalo has been cursed with not being bad enough to get a high pick, but have gotten plenty of above-average talent from where they have picked (Myer, Ennis, Kassian, Adam).

  4. emperorzero - Mar 23, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    The ’94 Rangers got away with “buying a Cup” because they went and acquired players who Mike Keenan was already familiar with and in most of the cases – had won championships and knew what it took to win.

    Buffalo should have been a solid playoff team (5 or 6 seed) but no ne expect Leino to struggle so bad. This is still a team that goes as far as Ryan Miller can carry them, but I do think Sabres fans should be excited with new ownership and the ability to retain and acquire players instead of always having to sell off the assets.

  5. Buffalo Grumblings - Mar 23, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    All the talk of Buffalo being a contender came from the fickle sports media in Buffalo, not hockey people or fans of the Sabres who have watched this team for longer than this team’s players have been alive. A big part of the problem was the day Miller got run over by Lucic. Whether he had a concussion or something else only he knows. The way he reacted to the Buffalo fans booing him for his less than stellar play tells me it was him. Those same fans are now cheering. They just haven’t meshed as a team until recently, which is why this fan (since day one in 1970) says it’s time for Lindy to go and get a better GM to build us a winner. Isn’t it ironic that Mike Keenans name came up when mentioning the ’94 Rangers. He was a Sabre coach in the minors but never got the chance here in Buffalo (thanks Scotty). We also had John Tortorella but let him go to Tampa Bay and win a Cup. The problem here is not the fans.

  6. modellforprez - Mar 23, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    I am a lot off way way off my rocker but who on Gods green earth said these bums were cup contenders. because they signed kris airhead and billy whino wtf is goin on millers aight but he ain’t no garth snow so why did they think terry’s pennsylvania money would but a cup for buttalo. schnikenberghers and I thought I had mental problems

    • screecwe - Mar 23, 2012 at 5:38 PM

      There’s just SO much stupid in this post I don’t even know where to begin..

  7. tcclark - Mar 23, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    A lot of people picked this team to be a cup contender and frankly I had no idea why. They wildly overpaid for Leino and Flyers fans were saying it from the start. Why people expected him to be a top line center I have no idea. He played the wing on a line with Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere and put up a solid 53 points, but that in no way should have meant that he was a top line center. He was at best the 6th best forward on a team that just barely beat Buffalo in the playoffs and then all of the sudden the media expected them to be cup contenders because they picked up a borderline top six player.

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