Ever since the Buffalo Sabres were eliminated from the 2013 playoff race, the futures of goaltender Ryan Miller and left winger Thomas Vanek remain uncertain.
Vanek and Miller will become unrestricted free agents next summer. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News believes the Sabres could get a good return for Vanek, but could instead shop Miller.
Given Miller's age (he'll turn 33 on July 17) and salary ($6.25 million), Harrington doubts a “goalie-starved team” like the Florida Panthers would be interested. Another factor to consider is Miller's limited no-trade clause, in which he lists eight teams he can reject as trade destinations.
Harrington instead suggested a club that’s close to Cup contention, but has questionable goaltending, would be a potential destination. He doubts Sabres GM Darcy Regier would ship Miller to an Eastern Conference rival like Washington, Pittsburgh or Montreal, believing instead that Western Conference clubs like the Anaheim Ducks or St. Louis Blues are trade possibilities.
Miller is married to Hollywood actress Noureen DeWulf, which makes Anaheim a perfect destination. Harrington also noted that Jonas Hiller was beaten three times in OT during the Ducks’ first round elimination by the Detroit Red Wings, while backup Viktor Fasth remained on the bench.
The Ducks, however, have roughly $4.8 million of projected cap space next season, so dumping Hiller ($4.5 million) or Fasth ($2.9 million) for Miller's expensive salary makes no sense.
Given the recent discontent between Jaroslav Halak and coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues could be a better option. With Brian Elliott out-playing Halak and promising Jake Allen waiting in the wings, Blues GM Doug Armstrong acknowledged his goaltending situation was “cloudy.”
While Miller would give the Blues post-season goaltending experience, he won't provide long-term stability if he doesn't commit to a deal beyond next season.
If moving Miller to a Cup contender isn't an option, Harrington suggested the Colorado Avalanche as a worthwhile alternative because the Sabres could use Paul Stastny.
The Avalanche just completed a front office shakeup and are believed to be close to hiring Patrick Roy as their new coach, so roster changes are anticipated as well.
One option overlooked by Harrington is the Phoenix Coyotes. Should starter Mike Smith depart via free agency this summer, they'll be in the market for a starter. If a buyer can be found to keep the team in Glendale and Miller would accept being dealt there, the Coyotes would be a good fit.
Another could be the Minnesota Wild if they fail to re-sign long-time starter Niklas Backstrom. Josh Harding is signed for two more seasons but his multiple sclerosis could limit him to a backup role, while Darcy Kuemper hasn't fully proven himself at the NHL level.
The Wild and Sabres have a recent trade history, as Jason Pominville was shipped to Minnesota at the deadline. Unfortunately, the Wild only have around $9 million in cap space with several key players to re-sign or replace. The Sabres would have to pick up part of his salary to get a deal done.
It's also possible Regier won’t find any suitors in the Western Conference this summer, which would force him to either shop Miller to an Eastern club, or carry him through next season and hope a deal with a Western team materializes before the trade deadline.
Expect Miller's trade status to remain a hot topic in this summer's NHL rumor mill.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).