When he signed with the Vancouver Canucks before the 2014-15 season, Ryan Miller was supposed to be the missing ingredient in ensuring that the franchise won its first Stanley Cup ever.
Talk about pressure.
Last year, when Miller went down with a knee injury, Eddie Lack took the reigns as Vancouver's starting goalie. And he didn't disappoint, going 18-13-4 with a .921 saves percentage and 2.45 goals against average. Not only did he play well, but he earned the respect of the Canuck faithful, and quickly became one of the most beloved players on the team.
When the playoffs rolled around, Miller was healthy again, but coach Willie Desjardins found himself in a goaltending quandary. Who does he start? Lack or Miller? After Lack didn't play too hot against Calgary, Miller was put into action against the Flames, where he played well, but it wasn't enough as the Canucks lost the series in six games.
Another quandary arose. Who do the Canucks keep? The fan favorite Lack? Or the proven but oft injured Miller?
For the past 10 years, there have been a handful of goaltenders who have performed at such an amazing level that you can say, "OK, this guy is a future Hall of Famer." I think that way about Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Carey Price and Ryan Miller. These guys are our Roy, Hasek, Fuhr and Brodeur.
Everyone on Twitter always heaps praise on Price, Quick and Lundqvist, but I think a lot of people look past Miller, especially after the Blues choked in the 2013-14 playoffs against the Blackhawks. After the postseason, the Blues, experiencing a logjam at the goalie position, made Miller expendable, and the Vancouver Canucks decided to take a chance on the 33-year-old goalkeeper.
Miller for a period of time was the Buffalo Sabres franchise. During the Sabres' run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2006, Miller posted a 30-14-3 record with a .914 saves percentage. In 2007, he had a superb year, going 40-16-6 with a .911 save percentage. 2010 proved to be Miller's finest, statistically. He finished the year with a 41-18-8 record with 5 shutouts and 2.22 goals against average. It earned him the Vezina Trophy that year, and he also appeared in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, going 5-0-1 with a 1.35 GAA and a .946 saves percentage.
Injuries have not been kind to the former USA Olympic goalie. Last year, he missed 37 games due to a knee injury, letting Lack take over the goaltending duties. When healthy, Miller was 29-15-1 with 2.53 goals against average and a .911 save percentage during the regular season. His stats were quite better than Lack's, but Vancouver fans took to the Swedish goalie, appreciating his hard work and easily approachable attitude.
At this year's NHL Draft, the Canucks traded Lack to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2015 third-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round pick. When announced, Canucks fans booed the decision, as Lack had become a favorite among the fans. To say it wasn't a popular decision would be an understatement.
When crowd is told Benning had offers for Miller, crowd grew restless. Benning had a bit of a sad. pic.twitter.com/m48c0j63J4— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) July 10, 2015
Fans and hockey writers view Miller as more of a liability than an asset, with his knee problems. Canucks fans looked at Lack as the goalie of the future, who deserved another shot at the #1 goalie slot in Vancouver. Now he heads to Tobacco Road.
You better believe the Canucks will have to protect Miller more this year. Their defensive corps consists of two proven defensemen in Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis, and not much else. After the loss of Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver did not go out and get a Top-6 defenseman, which was a big mistake. Guys like Chris Tanev, Matt Bartkowski and Luca Sbisa will have to up their game in order to keep their netminder out of harm's way for the rest of the year.
In this very early NHL season, Miller has been splendid for the Canucks, going 3-1-2 with a .935 save percentage and 1.80 goals against average. He looked great last Tuesday night, posing a shutout in the Canucks' 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
Can Miller stay healthy and lead the Canucks to the prize that has avoided them for so long? If he can play like he has been playing, there's no reason why Miller can't hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, and become a hero in the eyes of the Vancouver faithful. This might be his own tale of redemption.
He's got to make the most of it.