The Buffalo Sabres came into the 2011-2012 season with high expectations, mostly due to their aggressive moves in the free agent market. Buffalo signed offensive defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract. They also overpaid for inconsistent winger Ville Leino, signing him to a six-year deal, worth $27 million.
Many thought that the free agent additions, as well as the acquisition of Robyn Regehr, would help the team secure a playoff spot. Buffalo was also hoping for a bounce back season from playmaker Derek Roy, as he finished with just 35 points in an injury riddled 2010-11 campaign. They were also expecting more from young defenseman Tyler Myers, the 2009-2010 Calder Trophy winner. However, Myers hasn’t come close to the 48 points he finished with in his rookie season. The young rearguard “only” had 37 points in 2010-11, but the club was optimistic he could bounce back.
At this time last year, many would safely have said that Buffalo had one guarantee on the team – veteran goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller is widely regarded as one of the best goalies in all of hockey, but overall, the 2011-2012 season was tough for him. Miller suffered a concussion after being hit by Bruins power forward Milan Lucic. As if that wasn’t enough, former Predators agitator Jordin Tootoo ran over Miller a few months later. Miller’s head obviously wasn’t in the right place after the frequent physical abuse.
It wasn’t just Miller that was having trouble though. As a team, Buffalo couldn’t live up to the hype and the media began to question whether or not the current mix of players would work. Rumors swirled about a possible Ryan Miller and Patrick Kane deal, as Chicago was desperate for some stability in net. However, cooler heads prevailed, as most Sabres fans knew then and know now that Miller is the least of their problems and moving him wouldn’t help the team at all. Expecting Jhonas Enroth to taking over the starting reigns would be way too much to ask for at this point in time.
After all of the trade talk and rumors subsided, Miller enjoyed a very fine second half and looked like his old self as you can see below.
First half: 12-15, 3.07 GAA, .899 SV%, 1 SO
Second half: 19-6, 2.08 GAA, .931 SV%, 5 SO
Miller had several spectacular performances down the stretch, including a 5-1 win over Washington (44 saves on 45 shots), 3-0 win over Montreal (34 saves) and back-to-back shutouts against Anaheim and San Jose. He finished the season with a solid performance, in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia (33 saves, 2.03 GAA, .943 SV%).
Miller’s final stats: 31-21-7, 2.54 GAA, .916 SV%, 6 SO
Buffalo has made some major moves in the past calendar year, as they’re looking to get younger (and of course, better). They traded Derek Roy to Dallas in exchange for power forward Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy. Buffalo also acquired talented young forward Cody Hodgson from Vancouver, as well as Alexander Sulzer in exchange for prospect Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Despite Miller’s performance in 2011-2012, his career numbers as a starter are pretty impressive to say the least.
2005-2006: 30-14, 2.60 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO
2006-2007: 40-16, 2.73 GAA, .911 SV%, 2 SO
2007-2008: 36-27, 2.64 GAA, .906 SV%, 3 SO
2008-2009: 34-18, 2.53 GAA, .918 SV%, 5 SO
2009-2010: 41-18, 2.22 GAA, .929 SV%, 5 SO (Vezina Trophy winner)
2010-2011: 34-22, 2.59 GAA, .916 SV%, 5 SO
Lets take a look at Miller’s splits over the past few years.
First half: 22-12, 2.55 GAA, .916 SV%, 3 SO
Second half: 12-6, 2.48 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO
First half: 30-14, 2.16 GAA, .930 SV%, 5 SO
Second half: 11-4, 2.42 GAA, .922 SV%, 0 SO
First half: 21-14, 2.68 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO
Second half: 13-8, 2.44 GAA, .921 SV%, 2 SO
As you can see from the stats above, Miller usually improves as the season goes on and the 2011-2012 season was no exception to that as I explained earlier. With a potential December or January start to the NHL campaign, keep Miller’s strong finishes in mind when it comes to draft day.
I feel confident in saying that Miller is a top ten goalie and still one of the best in the game. For fantasy purposes, Miller sits behind Capitals youngster Braden Holtby in Yahoo’s goalie rankings at 56. He is ranked as the sixth best goalie in CBS leagues, right behind Tuukka Rask and Mike Smith. Miller is a top ten goalie in ESPN leagues as well, checking in at number nine, just below Cory Schneider and Rask.