Four years can seem like just yesterday for some of us, just ask Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo. Four years ago these two were considered among the best goaltenders in the NHL. They were front and center, representing the countries in a goal medal game at the Olympics which may have been the greatest Olympic hockey game of all time.
Now its four years later and with the Olympics approaching, neither goaltender will be on the ice for their country. More importantly, neither goaltender is talked about in that “top-tier” goaltender conversation anymore. The question is whether that’s correct? In the sports world, everyone is focused on what have you done for me lately, but in reality everyone would just love a model of consistency, as long as its not consistently bad. So why in a league that many teams may be missing that “elite” goaltender have these two fallen out of favor?
Looking at Roberto Luongo two things will jump out at you, age and contract. Luongo now is 34 which doesn’t lend itself to a team looking to make a long run at contention. However, goalies have shown they can play into their 40s now plus for teams that are in a win-now state of mind, age should be a small factor. Then there’s the contract, signed back in 2010-2011 for 12 years and $64 million. These types of deals were all the rage back a few years ago in the league and the Canucks locked up their top tier goaltender with one. A $5.3 million cap hit is a tough pill to swallow for any team which limited the number of suitors, however there were a few. Also, while Luongo has a no-trade that allows him to reject any trade to a team he doesn’t prefer, that would never have been a issue.
See, when the Canucks got Luongo back in the 2006-2007 season, he took off. Six straight years of 30 plus wins for Luongo including two of 40 plus. He led them to the Stanley Cup Finals. But then Corey Schneider appeared and while backing up Luongo showed glimpses of being a number one goaltender himself. Then last year, with Luongo coming off a season in which he won 31 games in just 54 games started, the Canucks amidst a goaltender controversy went Schneider over Luongo. Luongo started just 18 games going 9-6. So when this offseason came, it appeared logical the Canucks would try and find someone willing to deal for Luongo or use their amnesty buyout on him.
Originally the plan was to buyout Luongo but that was an idea immediately rejected by the Canucks owner. The thought of eating a contract in which would cost him roughly $27 million over the next 18 years with a cap hit that will get as high as $5 million in those middle years was something he couldn’t stomach. Then there were the trade options, there were talks with the Maple Leafs who has been in search for a true number one goaltender for several years and even Luongo’s former team the Panthers were engaged in discussions for their old goaltender. It seemed logical, the Canucks wanted to get rid of Luongo and Luongo wanted out, as mutual a separation as you could ask for. Yet, on draft day when the word came down the Canucks had traded a goaltender, it was Schneider not Luongo who was shipped out, giving the Devils their goalie for the future for the lowly cost of a first-round draft pick. Maybe the Canucks realized that Luongo is still a number one but the ship had sailed, it was a situation that couldn’t exist, Luongo couldn’t come back and there was no way to spin it to make it all go away and back to way it once was. Yet, here we stand with the Canucks and new coach John Tortorella trying to do exactly that.
While Luongo’s track record is good, Ryan Miller’s is just as good. Since 2005-2006, Miller had seven straight years or 30 plus wins including two of 40 plus. Miller had to fill the skates of a legend in Dominik Hasek and did so flawlessly. When it came to questioning the Buffalo Sabres, the only answer you ever had was Ryan Miller. Ryan Miller may still have nightmares of Sidney Crosby’s golden goal slipping through him at the 2010 Olympics but he’s been a model of consistency when it came to goaltending for the Sabres.
As things have begun to change in Buffalo, Miller has begun to slip into the background. Long time coach Lindy Ruff was fired and Miller is coming off a season in which he won just 17 games backing a deeply flawed Sabres team. In what appears to be the mindset of rebuilding, Miller’s name has been shopped aggressively over this offseason. This is where things get confusing. Miller is 33, a year younger than Luongo, and is in the final year of his deal with a cap hit of $6.25 million. Miller does have a list of 10 teams he can refuse a trade to but up to this point that list hasn’t been needed. There was a rumor that there were discussions with the Oilers but I don’t believe that for a second as the rumored discussion didn’t make sense for either side. The Blues called to gauge the price and then never called back. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has come out in the media and stated he’s shopping Miller but has difficulty finding the right deal.
Here’s the thing about Ryan Miller, when you look past his numbers last year and watched him play goalie in front of a Buffalo team that was far from competitive, Miller showed no signs of decline. So I blame both Regier and other teams of the NHL for not getting a deal done. If Regier is so intent on a rebuild and shipping Miller out, then he can’t hold firm on a set price, instead collecting offers and building off of them to make the best one he can. As far as the rest of the teams, can someone explain to me why a team like the Flyers who have convinced themselves the goaltender is their only issue, bought out their latest goaltender mistake and then after missing out on trading for Jonathan Bernier, never even made an attempt at Miller? Is the duo of Steve Mason and Ray Emery going to equal even half of what Ryan Miller can offer you? If you’re as close to winning a Stanley Cup as they believe they are, then trading draft picks and a young asset or two shouldn’t be a discussion.
Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo have been victims of their own situations. With the season around the corner, it seems that both men are destined for the teams they thought they probably wouldn’t be playing for ever again once last season ended. For Luongo, its a situation that he wants no part of but has no choice. He’s changed agents and as he prepares to now be the unquestioned number one goalie for the Canucks, you have to think in the background he has his agent still trying to find a way to get him out. For Ryan Miller, unless something changes soon, he’ll be between the pipes for the Sabres opening night and that’s just fine with him. The question is for how long will he remain there though as in the final year of his deal, Regier will be forced to pull the trigger before the trade deadline before Miller can walk for nothing. Two goaltenders, who still have the skills to be among the elite, lost and forgotten in a what have you done for me lately league. Oh how that Gold Medal game in Vancouver four years ago seems to long ago.