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Don’t like the Ryan Miller signing, Canucks fans? Consider the 2011-12 Leafs

Aug 11, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

Ryan Miller AP

For a good example of the scenario that Canucks general manager Jim Benning wanted to avoid next season, consider the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs.

That was the Leafs team that went into the season with James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson as their two goalies, despite the pair having combined for just 95 starts in NHL.

It did not go well for the Leafs, who, like the Canucks, play in a high-pressure Canadian market that can be particularly hard on goalies. Reimer, after an excellent 2010-11 rookie campaign that gave management confidence he could do it again, suffered a head injury in October and his game remained off all season. Meanwhile, Gustavsson mostly struggled when called upon, while Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas weren’t any better.

The Leafs finished 12 points out of the playoffs and with the second-lowest save percentage in the league (.898). And while the experience didn’t completely ruin Reimer, it still gets referenced to this day and contributed in part to Toronto’s acquisition of Jonathan Bernier, who’s since taken over as the starter. The future for Reimer as a Leaf remains very much up in the air.

The Canucks could have gone into the 2014-15 season with a similar goalie tandem to that Leafs team. They could’ve gone with Eddie Lack, who impressed as a rookie in 2013-14, as the starter. They could’ve had Jacob Markstrom as the back-up. Combined, those two have 78 career NHL starts.

And hey, it might’ve worked out great. Goaltending is an unpredictable position. Teams don’t necessarily need big-money goalies to be successful. Lack and Markstrom have a lot of potential, too.

But instead of rolling the dice on youth and inexperience, Benning signed veteran Ryan Miller to a three-year, $18 million contract.

“He’s going to give our team confidence,” said Benning. “I think goaltending is the most important position on the team.”

The Miller signing was also clear evidence that the objective in Vancouver is to make the playoffs. It’s not to enter the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

Said president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, to The Province: “We can’t have Daniel [Sedin] and Henrik [Sedin], Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins, all these veterans, and not give them every chance they need to win. As much as we felt Lack made great steps last year, Jim believes goaltending is the most important position in the game. He needed to know every night we had a chance to win and we’re going to be good in that position. That’s the foundation of your team. Nothing destroys confidence faster if you struggle at that position. We weren’t willing to risk that, and the three-year term gave us some flexibility.”

As poorly as Miller performed during his short stint in St. Louis, the 34-year-old was remarkably consistent during his many years with the Buffalo Sabres. In fact, from 2008-09 to 2013-14, his save percentage never finished below .915.

And at least publicly, Lack has been on board with the Miller signing.

“Ryan has been a great goalie in the league for a long time,” he told NHL.com, “and I’m going to try to learn from him.”

  1. 33to22 - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    I still would have preferred to keep Lu (&/or Schneider), but Benning made a sound decision on signing Miller. Lack has plenty of time. Go Nucks!

    • i1theinternet - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      Benning is making the best of the lousy situation he inherited.

  2. djshnooks - Aug 11, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    I think Benning knows Ryan Miller. I’m sure Vancouver fans will comment here and say Miller sucks…and 100% completely ignore the fact Benning drafted Miller.

    • govtminion - Aug 11, 2014 at 2:13 PM

      That’s actually a good point, I’ll admit I’d forgotten that myself. (Not that I think Miller will be awful by any means… more of a question mark than anything.)

    • nobandwagoners - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:20 PM

      I wouldn’t say Miller sucks but I do think that paying him $6m per season for 3 years was a bit of an over-payment, particularly in a cap environment. However, I don’t pay his pay cheque (at least not directly) so ….

      I think it’ll be ok. But it does present some issues for the goalies in the pipeline, including Markstrom. I can’t imagine he wants to be moved down to Utica for the season as it won’t be Lack he gets moved.

      • vancouversportsbro - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:24 PM

        Considering Tukkaa Rask the playoff choker and Pekka Rinne make over 7 million dollars a year, I would sign Ryan Miller for three years at 6 million without thinking twice. This guy was said to be one of the best in the league on that poor Buffalo team before other things happened in St. Louis.

      • hockeyflow33 - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:35 PM

        I’ve finally seen another person who agrees with my Rask assessment!!

      • vancouversportsbro - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:39 PM

        Funny how Luongo gets belittled as a playoff choker but don’t you dare say it about Tukkaa. The best goalie in the world only got out dueled by Carey Price.

      • kaptaanamerica - Aug 11, 2014 at 5:15 PM

        The reason miller was signed for 3 years was so the Canucks would get more at the deadline next season. They could trade him to a contender if the Canucks for some reason weren’t in the hunt or if lack has taken over as no. 1… That’s the flexibility Trevor talks about with miller’s contract.

        Teams pay more at the deadline for players with a bit of term and not pure rentals.

  3. vancouversportsbro - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    As a Nucks fan I would not say Ryan Miller sucks. I am actually happy to have him on board. No way would I want to enter the season and destroy Lack or Markstrom’s confidence. Only ignorant fans would say Ryan Miller “sucks” due to one bad post season with the Blues. His career has been solid and my memory of him is giving Team Canada all they can handle.

  4. iyvr - Aug 11, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    Jason, your argument makes no sense. Reimer had a bad 2011-2012 because he got concussed, not because he was in his second season. It was the concussion that affected his performance, not his seniority, just as a concussion could affect any goalie, regardless of age,

    If Benning was concerned about Lack’s abilities he could have signed Miller as an insurance policy for like one year at $4M, to play maybe 50% of the games. If Lack didn’t work out, Miller was there to pick up the slack, and get rewarded with a bigger contract and the starting position in one year’s time. What other teams were in the race to sign Miller?

    Instead, Benning signs Miller for $6M per year for 3 years. Given the term and the money Miller is the starting goalie, no matter how good Lack plays. Remember the drama when cheaper goalies (Schneider and Lack) out played Looo and took his starting spot?

    The point would be moot if Miller was a better goalie, but that’s not true either. Save percentages are practically the same (MIller .915, Lack .912) but goals against is worse (Miller 2.59, Lack 2.41),

    Benning wasted money that could be better used at the trade deadline to fill gaps, and told the young Canuck players that if they don’t have history with the new regime that they’re going to get an unfair shake.

    • forsch31 - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:09 PM

      >>>”Reimer, after an excellent 2010-11 rookie campaign that gave management confidence he could do it again, *suffered a head injury in October and his game remained off all season.*”

      Seems like Jason was blaming Reimer’s bad year on his concussion.

    • Jason Brough - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      “If Benning was concerned about Lack’s abilities he could have signed Miller as an insurance policy for like one year at $4M, to play maybe 50% of the games.”
      Um, are you sure Benning could’ve gotten Miller for one year at $4 million?
      You cannot put all of Reimer’s poor play that year on his concussion. It was a factor, yes, but it was not the only factor.
      It wasn’t just about Reimer either. It was also about the back-up the Leafs were left with when he went down. In signing Miller, the Canucks not only get a proven starter, they get a pretty good back-up in Lack.
      PS — don’t ever use GAA in your analysis. It hurts your credibility.

      • iyvr - Aug 11, 2014 at 6:01 PM

        Hiller signed in Calgary for about $4M, so that suggests that the Canucks could have had him as their insurance policy if they wanted one. No other teams signed new goalies, which leads me to believe Miller would still be on the market if the Canucks didn’t take him for $6M, or he would have signed somewhere else for less.

        Miller might be a “proven goalie”, but he also just failed his job interview in St. Louis. St. Louis gave up a lot to get him, and while losing the series wasn’t all his fault, STL decided not to resign him. Yes, there would have been a conditional pick if he resigned, but that pick would have went to Buffalo anyway if they’d made it to the Conference Final. The fact that STL decided to walk away should raise some questions about Miller’s real value, and the wisdom of giving him the starting job for 2-3 years.

  5. jkaflagg - Aug 11, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    Benning’s real task is rebuilding a farm system that has contributed almost nothing in the past several seasons….but the presence of guys like the Sedin’s makes it tough to rebuild on the fly. The team will never be terrible with the Sedin’s aboard, but without adding significant pieces around him (tough with a barren farm system) their chances of battling through the playoffs in the West are pretty slim, assuming they even get to post-season. In some ways the tear-down and build-up – like what Dean Lombardi did in LA and what Murray is doing now in Buffalo – might be easier than what Benning has to try to do in Vancouver.

  6. peter845 - Aug 11, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    I don’t like Canucks, but I think that was a mistake…

  7. peter845 - Aug 11, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    Iyvr, I totally agree! St. Louis gave up a lot for nothing.. He was there because he wanted to get out from Buffalo. I thought they were gonna keep Halak. I mean come on! Halak/Elliot??? They broke up that duo for nothing! I really thought that they were gonna get the Stanley cup…

  8. craigmaitland - Aug 12, 2014 at 1:35 AM

    The leafs defence was/is and will continue to be their “goaltending problem”. I would assume a lower save percentage when pylons are allowing guys to walk out into the slot for great chances.

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