The Ryan Miller era got off to a strong in St. Louis Sunday night, thanks to an unexpected outburst from the Blues’ offence – four unanswered goals in the third period to rally for a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Phoenix, bunched in with half-a-dozen other teams contending for the final two wild card spots in the Western Conference, needed the win more than the Blues, who are basically home and cooled for a playoff spot and in a position to win the Central Division.
But it was a nice ’welcome to town’ moment for Miller, who has three 2014 Olympic teammates – David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk – to help smooth the transition. There will be other times when the Blues will need him to bail them out. It was good for the collective St. Louis psyche that they could get their new starter a W in his first outing.
Goalie trades at or just before the trading deadline are not all that common, but the Miller deal calls to mind one from eight years ago, when the Edmonton Oilers landed Dwayne Roloson from the Minnesota Wild for a first-round pick. Roloson solidified their goaltending situation and the next thing you knew, they were playing in the Stanley Cup final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 2006 playoffs make for an interesting comparative because that was also the last time the NHL stopped play for an Olympics in Europe, which is a far different experience than an Olympics in Vancouver or Salt Lake City, with its minimal travel and didn’t nearly put the same physical demands on that players as a trip to and from Sochi, Russia did.
The resulting playoffs in 2006 were topsy-turvy – all four top seeds in the Western Conference lost in the opening round – and that history is going to provide courage for any NHL teams that slip into the playoffs at the 11th hour, especially those whose players weren’t burned out at the Olympics.
Miller is in a special category. He went to Sochi and played sparingly behind starter Jonathan Quick, so there was some rest for the rigors of a full NHL schedule, although he is like a lot of NHLers in the first week back – dealing with the effects of jet lag.
But Miller does look as if he can be a difference-maker on a St. Louis team that will protect him far better than the Buffalo Sabres, in their current incarnation, can. It takes a certain amount of discipline to be a good, good-team goalie (after a couple of years of playing on an erratic Sabres’ team) but Miller seems to have the right mindset to adjust. He was the MVP of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics; even the Americans lost the gold-medal game to Canada, and seems like the perfect fit with a Blues’ team that will make his life easier.
Miller’s departure could have a domino effect on the goalie market leading into the playoffs. Two of St. Louis’s Central Division rivals – the Wild and the Nashville Predators – appear on different courses, thanks to long-term health problems for their starters. Minnesota hasn’t seen Josh Harding since before Christmas, as he adjusts to new medication for his MS, and it doesn’t appear as if a return is in the cards.
Minnesota appears to be a logical landing place for Jaroslav Halak, if only as insurance for Darcy Kuemper, who has become the de facto starter there because of Niklas Backstrom’s groin problems. But Halak isn’t the only goalie on the market. A couple of netminders with reputations for quirkiness on teams that have no playoff chances – Florida, with Tim Thomas and Edmonton with Ilya Bryzgalov – could be on the move. Carolina’s post-Olympic freefall means someone – perhaps Cam Ward but also Anton Khudobin – might be up for grabs as well.
It is hard to imagine the New Jersey Devils ever moving Martin Brodeur, even if Cory Schneider has become the de facto No. 1 there, but Daniel Alfredsson left Ottawa after all those years, so nothing is impossible. As a short-term fix on a good defensive team, Brodeur could be a valuable addition. For some teams, lacking in postseason experience, Brodeur’s playoff pedigree and stature in the game might count for as much as his ability to stop the puck.