BUFFALO — OK, so where does Ryan Miller, the 2009-10 Vezina Trophy winner and Team USA Olympic hero, rank among NHL goalies right now?
Consider the following: his goals-against average the last two seasons has ranked 22nd and 22nd; his save percentage has ranked 18th and 19th; last year, he failed to backstop his team to the postseason for the third time in five seasons.
Based on the recent past, Miller’s probably an average netminder.
Is he better than, say, St. Louis journeyman Brian Elliott, who enjoyed a career season in 2011-12, posting a league-best 1.56 goals-against average after barely making the Blues? Yes. Miller still has a better body of work than many of the goalies statistically better than him.
But it’s hard to keep arguing Miller’s an elite goalie when he’s generating below-average numbers on a non-playoff team.
Miller quickly imploded after a great start last season. By early November, his appearances inside the First Niagara Center became increasingly difficult to watch. Fans rode him hard, serenading him with Bronx cheers when opponents blitzed him early.
They wanted backup Jhonas Enroth, who couldn’t lose then, starting. At one point, the rookie’s play kept Miller on the bench two straight games, igniting a controversy.
When Milan Lucic’s wicked hit Nov. 12 in Boston concussed Miller, the 31-year-old tended the worst goal of his career following his return, going 6-9-2 with a 3.32 goals-against average and .889 save percentage during a terrible 18-game stretch.
If Miller had been even average during that stretch, the Sabres likely would’ve won a few more games and made the playoffs.
Miller, of course, got going, possibly performing as well as ever. He posted dynamic numbers – 20-6-5, 2.04 and 9.32 – from late January on. However, he stumbled again late – 1-3-0, 3.74, .877 – after the Sabres moved into eighth place briefly.