BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ryan Miller was a no-show at Buffalo Sabres practice Monday because the star goalie was still travelling from the Sochi Games.
Though Miller was scheduled to return later in the day and start Tuesday, when Buffalo hosts Carolina, his absence could be something the Sabres will have to get accustomed to with the NHL trade deadline approaching on March 5.
A person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press that general manager Tim Murray continues to pursue offers for Miller with the intention of trading him by next week.
“Tim is testing the waters as hard as he can,” the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Murray declined to speak to reporters Monday.
The person said the team’s first option is trading Miller, who is in the final year of his contract and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. Option No. 2, the person added, would be making a bid to re-sign Miller if a trade can’t be completed.
Murray, who took over the Sabres last month, had previously not ruled out trading Miller or anyone else on the roster.
“This team’s in last place right now,” Murray said, during his inaugural news conference on Jan. 9. “Everybody can be traded.”
That means Miller isn’t the only player with an uncertain future on a Sabres team that, at 15-34-8, remains in last place coming out of the NHL Olympic break.
Captain Steve Ott, veteran winger Matt Moulson and defenceman Henrik Tallinder are also in the final years of their contracts and could be used as trade bait by a team intent on building through youth.
Following practice, interim head coach Ted Nolan said it would be safe to assume the Sabres will be active in making trades.
“I think that’s the key right there, not knowing,” Nolan said. “We can’t worry about who might be gone, who might be coming in. Today is the day we have to work with what we’ve got. And tomorrow, whatever we’ve got here, then we’ll work with that, too.”
Nolan also had a different take on his thoughts regarding Miller. After previously saying he favoured the Sabres retaining Miller, Nolan said the decision was out of his hands.
“My thoughts don’t really count right now,” Nolan said. “Certainly, what Ryan Miller means to this team and this town, no question you’d like to keep him. But it’s business. And we have to look forward to rebuilding this organization.”
In 11 seasons in Buffalo, the 33-year-old has set franchise records with 283 wins and 539 games played.
This season, Miller has been the team’s MVP.
With a 14-22-3 record, Miller accounts for all but one of Buffalo’s victories. His .923 save percentage ranks seventh among goalies with 30 or more starts.
Miller won the NHL’s Vezina Trophy in 2010, the same year he earned MVP honours at the Vancouver Games, where he played a key role in leading the United States to a silver medal.
At Sochi, he was relegated to a backup role behind Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick.
The Sabres are in a tough spot as far at goaltending entering their game against the Hurricanes (26-22-9). Aside from Miller, backup goalie Jhonas Enroth was also at the Olympics as a backup to Swedish starter Henrik Lundqvist.
Nolan made the decision to have Miller start against Carolina because the U.S. has been off since a 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze medal game on Saturday. Sweden played Sunday when it lost the gold medal game to Canada.
The trade deadline has become a hot topic of discussion in the Sabres locker room.
“I think you guys in the media as a whole have been telling me I’ve been getting traded since the first day I got here,” said Moulson, who was acquired in October in a trade that sent Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders.
“Sometimes it’s a little stressful. But I think when you tell yourself to control what you can control, it kind of calms me down a bit. I’m going to go out there and play hard, and whatever happens, happens.”
NOTES: The game against Carolina was originally scheduled to be played Jan. 7, but postponed after a blizzard hit Buffalo. … Moulson is scheduled to return after missing four games with an upper body injury. … Sabres enforcer John Scott broke his stick in anger as he left the ice during practice, and then slammed the gate at the bench behind him on the way to the locker room. Nolan said he asked Scott to leave after he didn’t like the way the player was practicing.