The face of a franchise. That is a title that some players would covet, and others would refuse to accept. It comes with a lot of responsibility, in so many aspects. A player that can be counted on. A player that can perform in any situation, under pressure. A player that steps to the mic after a loss and takes responsibility, or wins and passes out accolades to his teammates. A player that immediately comes to mind when a team is mentioned. The Patriots have Brady, Yankees and Jeter, Penguins with Crosby, Kobe with the Lakers. These are faces of franchises. Their respective organizations depend on them to both perform on the field, court, ice, etc. Franchises also fill the seats with fans to bring in revenue. Who fill this role for the Sabres?
To his or her fellow teammates, this player is the person you look to with :12 seconds left and down by one goal. In this final moment, does that player score the final dagger to end the game or make the save that wins it? They are the player that holds the closed door meeting when the team is not successful. The player who is on the game program, and the poster in the hallway of the arena. The player is on the television selling insurance, eye surgery, or a whatever it may be. It could be the guy whom the media goes to first with any questions after a game, change in leadership, or to discuss the future of the franchise. This does not mean that this player needs to wear a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ on the jersey, or have the largest contract, to be the franchises’ face.
Around the league, you can see how most teams are trying to approach the issue. While some like the single player approach, some use multiple players due to talent or family affiliation. Good or bad, most franchises in the NHL puts their faith on one or two players to carry the torch. There are however some teams that have a problem of not having that “face” player.
In the cases of good teams like the Boston Bruins (Zdeno Chara), Tampa Bay Lightning (Steven Stamkos), and Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby), the choice is open and obvious. The teams towards the bottom of league standings fighting for direction, can also have this person anointed for the role. The New York Islanders for example, have John Tavares. Some teams will place two eggs in their basket. The Anaheim Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry), Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane), and Detroit Red Wings (Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk), all have a two-headed monster to take on the task.
Another interesting approach is the family connection. As in Vancouver with the Sedin twins, and Carolina with the Staal family, these teams think that having the players together that grew up together could not only have some natural chemistry, but give fans that family atmosphere to root for. This can work in the right situations, where a team is successful to some degree. It makes it easier for a player to share the ego-type responsibilities that can sometimes present themselves.
There is one other team dwelling in the cellar of the NHL standings, that has a possible face of the franchise. The Buffalo Sabres, with Ryan Miller.
There is no doubt that Ryan Miller is the only player currently in the Sabres organization that could logically be nominated for such a title.
Why is, and should Miller continue to be this person for the Sabres? For the first time since the Days of Dominik Hasek, this team has a player that has been here long term, and is recognized worldwide by hockey fans on face and or name only. If Miller were to extend his career with Buffalo, he could break most, if not all of the goaltending records for the Sabres, and possibly lead them to the first professional sports championship in one of the four modern day major sports in the Western New York area.
His philanthropy in western New York is well known throughout the hockey community. In 2006, Miller, along with his father, started the Steadfast Foundation in recognition of a close relative who had been diagnosed with leukemia. The Foundation aims to raise public awareness of efforts and support towards the changes that occur to those who suffer from cancer. His work takes a heavy aim towards children’s leukemia and the life altering effects it has on patients and their families. Most notably, his ‘Catwalk for Charity’ annual event which is well attended, and raises a large portion of funds each year for the foundation.
Miller has also represented Team USA in the past, with good result. Miller three times represented the United States in the World Championships, twice for a total of eight games. He was selected as the main goaltender and starter at the 2010 Winter Olympic games, played in Vancouver, British Columbia. Miller went on a historic run for the goalie position on Team USA. Miller carried the low-scoring US team to the Gold Medal game against heavily favored Canada, while along the way compiling a .946 save percentage, and giving up only eight total goals in six games for a 1.35 GAA. He was named MVP of the tournament from the losing side. Ryan Miller had arrived on the world hockey stage, and had quickly become a face for Team USA hockey.
If Miller leaves this franchise, whether it be by free agency or trade, it would leave a huge void for the Buffalo Sabres.
What would Tim Murray and the Sabres need to do to get franchise-caliber player in replacement? You can obtain this player by trade. Trying to pry a player away from a team prior to unrestricted free agency would be the way to do this.
That seems like a long shot, until you remember that anything can happen. Remember when Gretzky was traded? Nobody saw that one coming.
The more obvious, and less financially pressing way to accomplish this, is to hope someone rises from the ashes of a tear down to the roster, and leaps into that face of the franchise role. There are a couple of players that could take on that role that are on the current roster for Buffalo now.
Zemgus Girgensons is quickly becoming a fan and media darling, for his hard work and never say die attitude. Girgensons is what some people call captain material, and is exactly what the Sabres franchise and the Buffalo fans can stand behind. Cody Hodgson is another intriguing option. He has not really taken hold of the expectations that the Sabres had for him to this point, despite the long term money and contract given to him prior to this season. Hodgson is only in the second full season for Buffalo Sabres, and this player could still become that face for the franchise.
Who should have emerged as such, but has failed to capture that spark needed? You could immediately point to Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford here. Myers was given a pass to the front after his first two seasons. Winning the Calder Trophy, and then getting the large extension from Buffalo after year two, clearly set him up to possibly surpass Miller for this position within the franchise. Unfortunately, Myers failed to move in that direction. Myers has just not lived up to the potential he showed early on. In his defense, there is time left on his deal to recapture that spark. Drew Stafford also fits the mold. Stafford was given good money after 31 goals in 62 games during the 2010-11 season. Stafford has not been able to gain that spark or effort again to get the team and fans behind him.
What about down the line? The Sabres have a plethora of young talent that could become that face of the franchise. Kids with talent, edge, and a future. Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nikita Zadorov both made names for themselves internationally at the World Junior Championship. These two have high potential for becoming important parts of the Sabres future.
So, what does all this mean? Buffalo has their franchise player now. Will they still have him come March 6th 2014? Or how about July 1st? Either way, Tim Murray has the most important job setting the face of the Buffalo Sabres in place for a long, long time.