BUFFALO, N.Y. – Now that Ryan Miller knows he’ll be in Buffalo for six more years, he can focus on helping an organization that has never won the Stanley Cup finally reach that goal.
Armed with a new five-year, US$31.25-million contract extension he signed last week, Miller didn’t shy away from saying what he wants to accomplish for the Sabres, a team that has not won a title in their 39 years of existence.
“My goals in hockey are to win championships for a team that I feel I’m a big part of, and be with an organization that backs me up and respects me,” Miller said at a news conference Tuesday. “I have all that here.”
Entering the final year of his contract, Miller always wanted “here” to be Buffalo, even though he was due to become a free agent following the upcoming season. Miller’s future was mentioned in several rumour mills, with his eventual departure to Detroit to play with his favourite boyhood team, the Red Wings, the juiciest piece of gossip.
Not even close, said the Michigan native who grew up 90 minutes away from Detroit.
“Everyone talked about Detroit, but to be honest, I was just a big fan of hockey growing up,” Miller said. “I respected the Red Wings, but there was really no point where I was looking to leave. I had another year on my contract and I was excited to play with my teammates and my friends and do it for all the right reasons … to win hockey games. That was always the focus.”
Locking Miller up was imperative for the Sabres, a team that has developed a reputation for being cheap after the recent departure of the high-profile players Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and Brian Campbell. That reputation, though, may be fading after a promising summer when the club was able to ink forwards Paul Gaustad and Daniel Paille to deals along with highly-touted prospects Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy.
“A lot of the decisions are based on what resources you’re going to have going forward,” managing partner Larry Quinn said. “I feel great that we were able to get this done. The first conversation we had about a contract was about faith and commitment. It wasn’t really about arguing about dollars.”
There’s no arguing what Miller means to the Sabres. He played in a franchise-high 76 games this past season, including a stretch starting 34 straight times. The workhorse posted a 36-27-10 record with a 2.64 goals-against average, and also recorded a career-high three shutouts.
In 2006-07, he helped lead Buffalo to a second straight appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, set a franchise mark with 40 wins, and earned the starting nod for the Eastern Conference in the all-star game.
The Sabres have taken steps to ease the workload on Miller this season by signing free agent goalie Patrick Lalime. Lalime has appeared in nearly 400 career NHL games in nine years.
“I hear he’s a great person, and he’s a heck of a competitor,” Miller said about his new backup. “I respect him as a goaltender. He’s somebody I look up to and look forward to meeting him.”
The Sabres finished out of the playoff picture last year for the first time since 2004. The ultra-competitive Miller is going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“It was a difficult season for us and a little bit of a hiccup,” he said. “But I got a sense that (the Sabres) still believed I could be a franchise player. I’m working hard and addressing things this summer that can help me be a better player and help the team.”