Goalie acquired Friday from Buffalo along with Steve Ott, is
touted as a difference-maker who could put St. Louis over the top
When newly acquired Ryan Miller walked into the team hotel in Phoenix on Saturday, one day before Blues will play the Coyotes, he was greeted by a very familiar face.
None other than Blues captain David Backes, a teammate of Miller's a week ago in Sochi, Russia on a world stage. Now they'll be teammates for keeps -- at least for the foreseeable future -- along with fellow Olympic teammates T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk vying for a Stanley Cup after failing to win Gold at the Olympics.
"Yeah, less than a week ago, we were having lunch at a cafe with T.J. and our families right off the Black Sea in a little Russian type cafe," Miller said a day after the Blues acquired him and Buffalo Sabres captain Steve Ott in a blockbuster move that sent Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first round pick and a conditional pick to Buffalo.
|(Buffalo Sabres photo)|
After acquiring him on Friday night, the Blues hope Ryan Miller (pictured)
will help them down the stretch and into the playoffs.
"And here we are in Phoenix, Arizona, a half a world away, and we get to play together," Miller added. "So it's pretty funny how the world works. I'm just happy to have it happen."
So is Backes.
"He's an all-world goalie that has shown it time and time again," Backes said. "I've seen him in a couple Olympics, where he's as good as anyone in the business. He's a great teammate. He's a guy that loves goalie technique, he loves studying the position, he loves stopping pucks. That's the kind of guy you want on your team.
"We'll miss Jaro and everything he did for this franchise and the records he holds ... they might be tough for someone to break. But there's a business side of the game and I think that's shown it's teeth. We'll move forward and Ryan will be great for us as well."
Miller, who will get the start for the Blues Sunday night, will don a different uniform for the first time in his NHL career after playing for the only team he has known the past 10-plus seasons since the Sabres drafted the East Lansing, Mich. native in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL Draft.
But the 33-year-old Miller, who will wear No. 39 for the Blues, is ready to move on to the next chapter of his career.
"Not that it's going to be a bad thing, but it's going to be weird to put on a (Blues) jersey the first time," Miller said. "Colors are the same, but it's been 12 years of the Buffalo Sabres organization. It's going to be a little bit surreal, I think, but I'm certainly looking forward to doing that. I'm starting to get a feel for the team first hand. I've heard a lot of great things. Get a feel for it and get going."
Miller is in the final year of a five-year, $31.25 million contract that included a limited no-trade clause in which Miller could list eight teams he would not accept a trade to. The Blues, who are battling for not only the division lead but the conference lead as well as the Presidents' Trophy, were at the top of Miller's list of teams he would accept a move to.
"Well, I mean you look at all of the different teams that looked like they had options, I definitely thought (St. Louis) was a good option for me," said Miller, who along with his Olympic teammates will have Ott as well as former Sabres teammates Derek Roy and Jordan Leopold in St. Louis. "I was trying to be really open-minded because right after signing a limited no-trade agreement. ... I actually gave them seven (teams) this summer and then once I hand that list over, it's kind of like I don't have all of that control that other guys do with the more traditional no-trade agreement.
"I was trying to be really open to anything that was going to come my way and be professional and be ready to play. I was kind of thinking about the possibility of St. Louis and now that it's happened, it's gone through, I'm really excited to be here. It's a great team. I do think it's a good fit. It's a team where I was just talking about the attitude on teams, it's right up my alley. I like that competitive nature and it seems like guys are pretty accountable to each other. That's not an easy thing to build. I feel like earlier in my career, I was on some teams where we had some success and we kind of came across it naturally and as you lose players from that team, you try to rebuild that feeling, that accountability, and it's not as easy as it looks. It takes time, it takes the right people. I'm really going to value this opportunity coming to St. Louis. They've spent a lot of time doing it. I'm going to try and do my part to fit in and just settle in and try to compete."
Miller was 15-22-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for the Sabres this season, who are 30th in the NHL. He'd been rumored to be on the move for the better part of a year.
"This has kind of been bouncing around Buffalo for a long time," Miller said. "Even last summer, you thought they were going to move me. It just keeps going and going and going. A long time to prepare but still it hit me pretty hard. I've been in Western New York for 12 years, so a lot of connection with the fan base, a lot of connection with friends. It was a tough time to find the words to say goodbye, but it's also exciting to start a new chapter."
The past 24 hours have, "been a little bit of a whirlwind," Miller said after expecting to get the start for the Sabres Friday night. "You go from preparing to play a game to (Sabres coach) Ted Nolan telling us we were not going to be dressing. Just a little anxious there for a while trying to figure out what exactly was transpiring. But I'm very happy to have it end up being St. Louis, a team that I have a lot respect for the way they play. I'm excited to be playing with a lot of these guys. Everything I'm hearing, it's a great group of guys who play for each other."
Halak, who is also in the final year of a four-year, $15 million contract the Blues signed him to when they acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens, will never get the chance to prove if he could be the guy in goal to push this team over the top. A lot of sentiment around the NHL was the Blues needed an upgrade in goal despite Halak's 24-9-4 record, 2.23 GAA and .917 save percentage and four shutouts this season. Many feel that Miller puts the Blues right there with the top teams favored to win it all.
"It's very flattering," Miller said. "I think there's a lot of great teams. Especially out West here, it's very competitive. But that's the great part about the challenge. There's going to be a lot of expectation put on the two of us after a trade like that. I'm just really hoping to get settled in with the team, so that we can help deliver."
Miller, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 168 pounds, is considered a difference-maker; someone who can steal games perhaps when the team in front of him is not playing up to par. It happened often in Buffalo, especially in recent seasons. The Sabres have not been to the playoffs since the 2010-11 season, but from 2005-2012, Miller won 252 games and 30 or more games in each season including 40 or more twice.
"I just try and approach it the way I always do," Miller said of his game. "I'm a pretty calm goaltender, probably not the most flashy guy in the nets. I'm trying to be positionally sound and read plays. If it's too flashy, I'm doing it wrong.
"I like to think that I can have a settling effect for a team. That's kind of the mental approach that I take. I just want to let the guys know that everything is OK, and I'm going to try to take care of business back there. I had an opportunity to play some big hockey games and I look forward to it again. I want to find that next level of success and transition from coming close to getting some big wins."
He'll get that chance with the Blues. Miller spoke briefly with coach Ken Hitchcock upon arrival at the team's hotel, but it will be a bit of a feeling out process with little time in the regular season remaining.
"It was good," Miller said. "I really haven't been able to talk to him. I ran into him and (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong on the way out of the country in New York, going to the Olympics. It was nice to meet them there and talk to them, just friendly kind of stuff. Of course getting ready to work with Hitch, it's good. A smile on this face, talking about how hard the guys compete. That's exciting to be a part of."
Hitchcock has coached against Miller in the NHL long enough as well as the Olympics and knows firsthand what the Blues are getting.
"You're looking for people that can give you a competitive edge and I think that Ryan is a really competitive guy," Hitchcock said. "He's obviously had a heck of a career. But if you're talking about a competitive edge moving forward in March and April and further, you've got to have people on your team that can go a little bit further. And I think Ryan is an experienced guy playing in high-pressured situations and I think he can really help us.
|(Buffalo Sabres photo)|
Ryan Miller is 11th in the NHL in save percentage (.923) despite playing
for a last-place team.
"I don't think anybody questions he's a heck of a goalie. But it's also our job to not just sit there and count on him. I mean, to say OK, everybody have a free look at our goalie now. We've got to continue to play well and execute well so that he can play well. I think part of it, quite frankly, is up to us. We've got to play better in front of him to give him a chance to show the things that he can show. He's a really competitive guy, he never gives up on any shot, practice, games, anywhere. And he's the guy that for us can add to the mix here."
As far as how much Miller will play, Hitchcock was up front in that regard.
"Play the blank out of them, put 'em in, play 'em, don't try to change them, don't try to over-coach 'em, give them a few concepts of the way we play and then turn them loose and let 'em play," Hitchcock said.
But Miller is starting over with a new team, and there is always the mentality that a player needs to prove himself to his teammates and new city.
"Well there's always a 'prove it,'" Miller said. "Every season you have to prove it, keep your job.
"I hope I do give the people of St. Louis a reason to think kindly upon the way I play. It's an exciting time for me. It's also ... I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little bit anxious, a little bit nervous. I spent 12 years in Buffalo and have a lot of history there, people remember a lot of good things ... and I'm starting from scratch here. Also starting with a team that has a lot of high expectations, so it's something where just settle in and get ready to go."
"I'm never going to forget Buffalo, what the city and organization did for my career," Miller added. "But we're in this situation now, where I can start something new, a team that I have a lot of respect for and a city that I'm looking forward to learning a lot about."