MONTREAL – Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said he’s heard lots of talk about the franchise’s future before.
In less than a year, Miller has gone from backstopping a veteran team built to contend for the Stanley Cup to being the lone bright spot on a rebuilding club already regarded as one of the worst in NHL history.
So the 33-year-old, an unrestricted free agent following the season, wants more than words from the Sabres as he decides his future.
“It’s about action at this point,” Miller said Friday in Buffalo after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game against the Canadiens inside the Bell Centre. “I’m not going to sit around and let promises get thrown around.”
Many had Miller pegged as a goner during the summer. If the former Vezina Trophy winner’s traded now, he would probably bring the Sabres a nice haul, even on the limited goalie market.
But there’s a new regime in Buffalo. Interim coach Ted Nolan just said he’d like to keep the franchise goalie and build around him.
Now, it’s not such a crazy idea to think Miller, who’s been performing dynamically despite the team’s struggles, could re-up with the Sabres.
“My thinking has just always been wait to see what plan presents itself,” Miller said. “It feels like I’ve been saying that for a while, but things have shifted so much. I just feel like going back to last year I said the same thing but nothing happened in regards to my situation.”
Miller said he’s had some talks with Pat LaFontaine, the president of hockey operations – “Just exploratory, just get to know each other,” he called them – about his future.
LaFontaine, of course, still must hire a general manager. Miller also knows LaFontaine and company are still trying to get up to speed with the organization.
“You have to pause for a minute and evaluate where you’re at, because you can’t just keep shedding everything, I guess,” Miller said. “I think they’re trying to figure out the guys they want to hang onto and build a core around.”
Nolan’s words won’t sway Miller.
“It’s nice to hear,” Miller said. “I appreciate the gesture from somebody that’s been around hockey a long time. Again, I’m just trying to see what the plan is around here. His opinion goes a long way, but it’s going to be up to Patty LaFontaine and whoever he brings in as GM to make that ultimate player personnel decision.”
Miller has seen the hapless Sabres, an NHL-worst 6-21-2, “improving in small areas” in their nine games under Nolan.
“They’re becoming hockey games now instead of lopsided kind of events,” he said. “We’re in games, and we got to find ways to win.”
He added: “But there’s a long way to go.”
Miller, like any player, probably wants a long contract. This next deal will almost certainly be his last big one.
He said he still enjoys the challenge of tending goal and could play until he’s in his late 30s or even 40.
“It’s not far away, so I like to think I could play,” joked Miller, who’s 5-16 with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
He doesn’t want to stop playing “until they tell me to,” he said.
“As long as there’s a spot in the NHL I think I’ll be competing,” Miller said.
Miller said the seven-year, $59.5 million extension New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist signed Wednesday set “the standard” for the goalie market.
“I thought it was actually kind of lower than he was going for,” Miller said. “I think he got good term, good money.”
Like Miller, the 31-year-old Lundqvist, who beat the Sabres on Thursday, is regarded as an elite goalie despite having never won a Cup.
With the salary cap going up thanks to the NHL’s new huge Canadian TV deal, “Maybe it’ll seem like a pretty average price down the line,” Miller said about Lundqvist’s contract.
Miller, who’s making $6.25 million this season, could command a similar deal on the open market. But even if the Sabres want him back, would they want to give him more than four or five years?
Whenever Miller departs, he wants to leave the Sabres in good hands.
“This is the organization and city I’ve grown to love,” he said. “I need to do what I can to set a foundation here, whether it’s the next four or five months, five weeks, four or five days or it’s years in the future, I have to set the foundation, be a positive influence.
“No matter if I’m staying or going, I want the foundation to be set so that this team has success.”