By Bill Hoppe
Goalie Ryan Miller had heard the trade rumor, the one about him not minding if the Sabres dealt him. But multiple ones? He wasn’t aware the chatter had grown.
“I thought there was one specifically I was going to have to talk about because (coach) Lindy (Ruff) was joking with me yesterday about it,” an upbeat Miller said Wednesday after practicing inside the First Niagara Center, his first full session since suffering what the Sabres say was a concussion Nov. 12.
Miller, who Ruff said could possibly return this weekend, laughed off the rumors, saying, “The grass doesn’t get much greener than it does here.”
“I’ve never, in my time here, talked to Lindy, (general manager) Darcy (Regier), ownership about a trade,” Miller said. “And they’ve never come to me asking for any options.”
Miller has it good here, you know.
“I have a long history here. I feel like I’ve grown up here,” Miller said. “This is where I want to win. … There’s no better place to win. The fans love hockey. I think that I’ve worked hard as a player and I’ve worked hard to be a part of the community. I feel a part of things here. Why would I want to leave that?”
The 31-year-old understands the rumors, though. Prior to getting steamrolled by Boston’s Milan Lucic, Miller struggled, going 1-5 with a 4.15 goals-against average and .865 save percentage. Meanwhile, rookie backup Jhonas Enroth, a future No. 1, couldn’t lose.
“I can understand why there’s speculation. I went through a tough stretch of hockey,” Miller said. “I haven’t had a chance to dig myself out yet with the injury. I know I need to be better, and I’m working on that. But for me to say that I don’t want to be here just because of that. No.”
The rumors began Sunday, when the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson, a Hall of Fame writer, wrote, “We keep hearing that Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is out with a concussion and wouldn’t mind if the Sabres traded him.”
“It’s funny when you hear things like ‘wouldn’t mind.’ That implies someone’s asked me,” said Miller, who has a limited no-trade clause of eight teams he can refuse. “I’ve never made a comment about my status with the team. My comment about my status with the team now is I’m proud of being a Sabre. I’m excited for what we can accomplish moving forward, and I want to be a part of it. There’s no reason for me to want to leave the situation.
“We have great new ownership who’s excited to put a winner on the ice, and I want to be a part of it.”
There was also a published report Anaheim general manager Bob Murray, who’s shopping winger Bobby Ryan, has asked Regier about Miller. Several Ducks scouts have watched the Sabres recently.
“It’s something you just laugh about,” Miller said about all the speculation. “It’s something where someone needs Web hits … or if the trade happens two years from now, they broke the story. They threw spaghetti at the wall to see if it would stick.”
Some have also surmised Miller, who lives much of the year apart from his wife, California-based actress Noureen Dewulf, would welcome a trade out west.
“This is what I want to do with my life,” Miller said. “I want to be a goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres.”
Incredibly, the trade talk has almost overshadowed Miller’s imminent return. The Sabres host Detroit on Friday and play Saturday in Nashville.
“I wouldn’t rule the weekend out,” Ruff said about Miller.
After participating in Tuesday’s morning skate, Miller looked sharp under a heavy workload Wednesday. He wasn’t limited in any way. He’ll get more action today.
“I feel pretty good,” Miller said. “It’s just getting the timing back. I think part of the excitement of being back out there helped a little bit.”
Miller’s neck, which has been a source of discomfort, responded well.
“Neck has been pretty good, a little tight just wearing the mask again,” Miller said. “Again, nothing where there’s been issues. Our trainers have been feeling for that tightness in there, and I’ve been pretty good for the last few days.”
At one point in practice, Ville Leino fell on Miller, one of a few times the winger hit him. Miller bounced right back up, however.
“When I saw it originally, I thought, ‘That can’t be good,’” Ruff said. “The flexibility they have is pretty impressive.”
Miller still has to pass his baseline concussion test before he can return. His presence has already provided a “boost for us,” Ruff said.
“You get your goalie back,” Ruff said. “We know what he means to our team, what he’s meant to this franchise.”