Ryan Miller will always be inextricably linked to Vancouver in the minds of Canadian hockey fans. He was the primary reason that the 2010 U.S. Olympic team qualified for the gold-medal game against Canada and made it to overtime, with exceptional goaltending. And he was there when Sidney Crosby slipped a puck between Miller's legs to give Canada a hometown gold.
Miller moved to Vancouver on a more permanent basis Tuesday, signing a three-year, $18-million contract to play for the Canucks as their new No. 1 goaltender. The Canucks had a desperate need for a veteran starter, after trading away both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo in the past 12 months.
Is Miller the answer? He couldn't help the St. Louis Blues get out of the opening playoff round against the Chicago Blackhawks. Miller actually had a better time of it at the start of the season, playing for the Buffalo Sabres, where he put up a .923 save percentage on a 15-22-3 record and a 2.72 GAA – decent numbers considering he was playing for the worst team in the league.
In St. Louis, considered one of the most defensively sound clubs, his save percentage dipped to .903, with a 2.47 GAA and a 10-8-1 record. But the Canucks needed more depth between the pipes, where Eddie Lack had a decent season for them (16-17-5, 2.41 GAA, .912) but probably wasn't experienced enough to be a No. 1 goalie, with only Jacob Markstrom in reserve. So Miller, who was seeking a chance to play on a West Coast team, will get a chance to get his career back on the rails.
"They're trying to establish from the top down, the right attitude," said Miller. "They feel like they have a good core group of guys who understand what that attitude is. You're going to have a lot of younger guys come up, and it'll be up to the veteran guys to establish a good precedent.
"Last year, you had guys dealing with a number of different things. There was a change in the system here. I'd like to think that this team can get its mojo back – and push forward."
The new general manager in Vancouver, Jim Benning, began his front-office career, working nine seasons for the Sabres (1995-2004), which coincided with Miller's draft year, 1999. So he was there at the beginning with Miller, through the three years at Michigan State and three more years developing with their AHL affiliate in Rochester. For most of Miller's pro career, which included a Vezina Trophy in 2010, Benning worked for their divisional rivals, the Boston Bruins.
Presumably, Benning was satisfied that Miller, who will turn 34 on July 17, still has a number of good years left.
The Canucks have undergone a serious makeover under Benning, adding four new regulars since last week – centre Nick Bonino and defenceman Luca Sbisa from Anaheim, centre Linden Vey from Los Angeles and winger Derek Dorsett from the Rangers. The only tangible assets they've surrendered were Ryan Kesler (to the Ducks) and Jason Garrison (to Tampa).
Benning called Miller "a proven winner and an accomplished player who has had success at every level.
"His pedigree speaks for itself. His competitiveness, professionalism and commitment to being involved in the community are the qualities we want to see in our players."
Miller toured Vancouver on the weekend and then stuck around for the press conference announcing his hiring. Aware that Vancouver can be a goalie graveyard, Miller nevertheless struck a positive approach to the challenge that lies ahead.
"That's part of growing as a person and a player," said Miller. "I'm secure in who I am and in what I want to accomplish. I'm definitely going to have to make a point of just doing my job. My job is not to get caught up in too much other than what I need to do to play good in goal. I'm aware of what the media reputation is, but I think it's great that there's so much interest in hockey here and that the fans are so passionate and genuinely interested in how the team does. That can bring a team closer.
"If you're going to play in a city that cares a lot, every game is important. Every game means something. You need to be ready for that. I think that can be an advantage if you do it the right way.
Miller spoke of his Olympic experience with Team USA in glowing terms, noting how: "I've had a chance to experience Vancouver over the years and have always been blown away by the amount of support that the fans bring out and how great the crowds have been and also how kind the people have been and how they treated me, especially during the Olympics. It was a lot of fun walking the streets and having a great interaction with the people. They were so excited to have the Games and so proud to have them in their city.
"It's a great city for hockey, a great city to live in and I'm very excited to be here and join this group."
The Canucks have recently undergone a major organizational facelift of late, but Miller didn't think it would take too long to get back on the winning track – and that he could be a part of that, even though he now has a year more miles on the body.
"I feel I'm always developing as a player and a person," said Miller. "It's something that I've been inspired by goalies that I watched growing up – and see them adapt and adjust and become completely different than what they were when they started and still have success. I think I'm still developing into the best player I can be. I take that part of hockey seriously – finding new things to add to my game and taking coaching from other people."