VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks continued their renovation Tuesday with the signing of free-agent goaltender Ryan Miller, a move designed to add experience in net to a team that missed the NHL playoffs last season.
Miller, considered the best goaltender on the free-agent market, signed a three-year contract worth US$18 million.
“We think he is going to be very instrumental in the success of our team going forward,” Jim Benning, Vancouver’s general manager, told a news conference. “He gives us that experience we need in net.
“He is a ferocious competitor. He is focused, he is intense. He wants to win. Those are the types of players we want in our organization going forward.”
Miller, a former Veznia Trophy winner who has played in 559 NHL games, believes he can help return the shine to a team that has begun to show tarnish.
“I like to think that this team can get its mojo back, have a good attitude and push forward,” said the 33-year-old from East Lansing, Mich. “From the top down I think they have the right attitude in place. I think it’s going to be exciting to play hockey here.”
Miller spent parts of 12 seasons playing for the Buffalo Sabres before being traded to the St. Louis Blues in February. The Blues were looking for a goaltender who would take them deep into the playoffs but they were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round after Miller allowed 19 goals and posted a lacklustre .897 save percentage.
“Just leaving Buffalo was a little bit of a shock to the system,” said Miller, who was the goalie on the U.S. team that lost to Canada in the gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. “We didn’t accomplish what we set out to do in St. Louis. That always is going to sting. As an athlete and a person you have to move forward. One moment doesn’t define you. You keep believing in yourself.”
Miller had a 25-30-4 record last year with a 2.64 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. For his career Miller has a 294-194-60 record, a 2.59 GAA and 29 shutouts. He has also played in 53 playoff games, posting a 27-26 record. The Canucks are hoping Miller will bring a veteran presence to the team while giving Eddie Lack time to mature and develop. The Canuck goaltending situation has been a soap opera with both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo being traded in the past 13 months.
Benning expects Miller to play “the majority of games” this year.
“I think Eddie can look to Ryan as a mentor,” he said. “I think he can continue to grow as a goalie.
“I think it’s going to be good for Ryan and Eddie.”
Lack, 26, had a 16-17-5 record last season but looked to run out of gas down the stretch after Luongo was dealt to Florida. Lack’s .912 save percentage was ranked 30th in the league and his 2.41 GAA was 20th.
Vancouver finished the year with a 36-35-11 record for 83 points, leaving them 25th overall and out of the playoffs for the first time in six years. That cost both general manager Mike Gillis and head coach John Tortorella their jobs.
Miller gives the Canucks experience in net but scoring remains the team’s bigger problem. Vancouver managed just 196 goals last year, leaving them tied for second last in the league.
Benning said the Canucks “were in on” talks with Jarome Iginla, who eventually signed with Colorado.
“We are still in on some things to add scoring,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen today maybe it’s the secondary market in the next few days or the next week.
“We are going to do everything we can to make this team be a successful team and win.”
Reaction to the Miller deal was mixed on Vancouver talk radio and Twitter. Some fans believed goaltender Jonas Hiller, who signed a two-year, US$9-million deal with the Calgary Flames, was a better, cheaper option.
Miller said he isn’t bothered by the scrutiny of playing in a high-profile Canadian market.
“I am secure in who I am and what I want to accomplish,” he said. “My job is not to get caught up in too much other than what I need to do. I’m aware of what the media reputation is. I think it’s great there is so much interest in hockey here.”
One reason Miller is happy to play on the West Coast is it moves him closer to his actress wife Noureen deWulf. She stars in the television program “Anger Management” and lives in Los Angeles.
The Canucks have won just one playoff game since losing in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final. Missing the playoffs this spring resulted in a major overhaul.
Trevor Linden, one of the most popular Canucks ever, was hired as the team’s president. He hired Benning as GM and Willie Desjardins as coach.
Benning traded veteran centre Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks last week for centre Nick Bonino and defenceman Luca Sbisa. He then dealt defenceman Jason Garrison to Tampa Bay for a second-round draft pick, which was used to acquire prospect Linden Vey from the Los Angeles Kings.
“We are going to continue to try and make moves,” said Benning. “Our goal is going to be to try and make the playoffs every year.”