Miller was the dream late draft pick who bloomed into a star. He was part of the Sabres core that led their resurgence and success in the mid to late 2000s. When you think of the great Sabres teams in the 2000s the first three players always spoken of were Daniel Briere, Christ Drury, and Miller. Miller needed time to find his way as he famously was teary-eyed after a loss in his first season that he had blown his shot in the NHL. He grew into an excellent competitor and a steady force in the net.
Early in his career, the teams in front knew he would make a save and could play a wide-open offensive style. Later when guys like Drury, Briere, & Campbell left it was all on Miller to carry the team something he did admirably. Off the ice, Miller was a true community leader someone who was known for doing the right thing. Miller wore a Matt-Man phrase on the back of his helmet in honor of his cousin who fought and eventually succumb to Leukemia. Miller was even able to get the US Olympic committee to let him keep the phrase on his helmet for the 2010 Olympics.
One of my first great memories of Miller was a game against the Ottawa Senators in February 2006 right before the Olympics. The Sabres were surging but the Senators were the best time in the league at the time and had blown the Sabres out in the previous three meetings. Miller took on non-other than Dominik Hasek in a 1-1 goalie duel which the Sabres won in overtime. After the game, the fans chanted USA as Miller was looked over as a goalie for the US Olympic team which flamed out in 2006. He had many moments for Sabre fans like this where his talent and competitiveness shown brightly. Nationally, Miller captured the nation with his sensationally play in the 2010 Olympics as he carried a plucky US team to the Silver medal.
If there was a blemish for Ryan Miller it was his biggest moments never went his way. He was superb in the 2005-06 playoffs but lost half his defense in front of him as the Sabres fell to the Hurricanes in 7 games.
After having the best team in the NHL in 2006-07 the Sabres let both their captains go with Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, effectively removing the Sabres from being an elite team to a lower playoff squad.
The division crown in 2010 was a credit to Miller’s play and the Vezina trophy for the leagues top goalie was well earned. In the first Winter Classic in 2008, Miller played well in another goalie duel only for Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the game in a shootout goal. Again in the Olympics Crosby was Miller’s kryptonite when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime for Team Canada in the gold medal win.
In the 2011 playoffs, Miller shut out the Flyers twice in a seven-game series but never got the help from his team to make it to the next round. The following year with an improved team the Sabres got ravaged by injuries and just missed the playoffs.
More importantly, though the team failed Miller in the biggest way in a crossroads moment that season for him and the team. Going into a November 12 game against the Bruins the Sabres were 10-5 looking good and leading the division.
Midway in the first period, Miller went to play a puck and got run by Bruins winger Milan Lucic.
Miller sustained a concussion and neck injury causing him to miss the next 9 games. Meanwhile, the Sabres showed zero response to back their goalie minus Thomas Vanek of all players going after Lucic. Things were never the same after as the Sabres aged, faltered, and didn’t show the resolve to support Miller in net.
The Sabres traded Miller in 2014 to the Blues as their rebuild started for real. Miller had less success elsewhere as in St Louis and Vancouver his teams flamed out early in the playoffs.
During his time in the NHL Miller’s play blessed the Sabres with great goaltending as he was considered one of the leagues best goalies from 2005 into 2012. Advanced stats accurately now show how much Ryan Miller covered for the Sabres and unfortunately how much they wasted his strong play.
Comparatively, Miller’s stats are similar to Curtis Joseph in the 1990s who for a time was one of the leagues best goalies. Miller will go down as the winningest USA born goalie when he retires. While Miller will probably not make the NHL hall of fame he has a good case to have his name in the Sabres rafters.
He is the second-best goalie in Sabres history and represents the best of the good Sabres teams from the mid to late 2000s. When Miller does retire hopefully he signs a one day contract to finish with Buffalo as a nice wrap up to his career and the next season the team honors him for his play.