BUFFALO – With his future as the Sabres’ franchise goalie iffy, Ryan Miller said he’s trying to find a balance. The veteran doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions as rumors swirl he’ll be traded from the struggling club this offseason.
For years, one of Miller’s greatest strengths has been becoming “really focused and fired up,” he said. But that hurt him at times.
So the 32-year-old wants to “let go just a little bit.”
“I’m just trying to be open to the opportunity,” Miller said Saturday as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers inside the First Niagara Center after missing the playoffs a second straight season. “If it’s to be in Buffalo, I’ve been a Sabre my whole career. That’s where I like to be. That’s great.
“If it’s somewhere else, then I have to accept it and move on because that’s sports. So I don’t think there’s a bad situation in it if you just kind of take it as I’m going to be playing hockey again next year, and it’s going to be exactly what I always wanted to be doing.”
At some point soon, Miller, who has one year left on his contract like leading scorer Thomas Vanek, will talk to general manager Darcy Regier about his future. Vanek also plans to have a meeting.
Some high-profile veterans, including former captain Jason Pominville, have already been dealt. Former coach Lindy Ruff was fired in February.
The Sabres recently turned to youth. In just a short time, the Sabres morphed into a dramatically different team.
“It was a strange year,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. “I had never been a part of anything that drastic before. It’s new territory for me.”
Still, it’s unclear whether the Sabres will rebuild fully or simply retool a bit.
“There’s definitely signs that there’s been a little bit of a shift in the plan, the long-term plan,” Miller said. “So we’ll see if that’s something (they take) a little bit further, I become just an asset they’re going to use. Ultimately, it’s not going to be up to me.”
Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff added: “I’m hoping it’s not going to be a long rebuild like we’ve seen in Edmonton, for instance.”
The Oilers’ futility has earned them the first overall pick the last three seasons.
Vanek, who believes the Sabres look like they’re rebuilding, said, “If it looks like it’s a long rebuild, then it probably makes sense for both parties to move on.” The 29-year-old made similar comments earlier this month.
Has the slick winger thought about his days with the Sabres ending?
“Let’s be honest. I’m not stupid,” Vanek said. “I know I have a year left and they can probably deal me for prospects, young guys, whatever else is out there. Yeah, I’ve thought about it.”
Miller insists he’s “not going to try to worry too much.”
“If I’m here, it’s a great organization,” he said. “They want to win. That’s something you look around the league. Everybody does want to win. But we have great resources here. We have good people. I think ultimately they league has a lot of parity. You just have to find the right mix, the right attitude.”
Having missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons, the Sabres haven’t possessed that combination often.
“I’m convinced more and more as I play longer and longer it’s more about the attitude and the kind of team you build,” Miller said. “It’s not always about a bunch of skill pieces. You have to define the way you play. And we can find a way to play here, if we can define it and do it every night, we’ll have just as good a chance as anybody.”
Defenseman Mike Weber said the Sabres “have a lot of changes to make.”
“We need to just go in a different here, really change the culture here,” Weber said.
What does he mean?
“It speaks to how we need to treat each other in the room,” Weber said. “I think a lot of that’s been lost here over the last couple years. Everyone wants to win.
Weber said everyone, including himself, needs to showcase more consistency.
“Everyone needs to be held accountable for when they’re not playing well, and we’ve got to find a way as a team to boost each other up and to power through some struggles,” he said. “That’s been our biggest downfall. We get lost in these ruts.”
Weber believes those ruts become “quicksand.”
“It just sucks us in,” he said. “We don’t have enough fight to fight out of it. I think that’s the culture that I’m speaking of. We need to find that battle, that intensity to get ourselves out of it.”
Miller isn’t totally convinced he’ll be out of Buffalo. He cited Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who stayed with the Canucks despite assuming a No. 2 role, as an example.
“Everything’s unpredictable,” Miller said. “Everyone thought Luongo was going to get traded. Look where he is.”