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Though the Buffalo Sabres have poured $9 million into their payroll since 2010, results on the ice have been less than positive. A 6-10-1 start this season left the team floundering near the bottom of the standings, and in February, G.M. Darcy Regier fired Lindy Ruff, the league's longest-tenured coach, who had been behind the Sabres' bench since 1997. The dismissal led many from within and without the club—which, under interim coach Ron Rolston, was 13-15-4 at week's end—to question the organization's direction.
Among them was Ryan Miller, Buffalo's franchise goalie, who last month asked rhetorically, "Do a couple of pieces need to come in? Or do they need to develop? How long is it going to take? ... Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that's going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward? Or are we not the core anymore? Who knows?"
The outspoken Miller (who last November called the Bruins' Milan Lucic "gutless" and a "piece of s---" after the hulking winger barreled into him while both were chasing a loose puck) voiced his opinion again last week. When asked about Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta's own comments about the team—after being a healthy scratch for his first game back from a league-imposed five-game suspension for a dangerous hit, Kaleta said, "I'm pissed off. I want to play"— Miller called his teammate "dramatic" and told reporters, "He needs to just grow up."
The goalie later backpedaled, saying, "I probably shouldn't have handled it that way, but I was frustrated. I think everybody in Buffalo knows I'm prone to say stupid things over the course of the season." He also apologized to Kaleta, but it was the sort of outburst that has alienated the 10-year veteran from fans and teammates, and it seems increasingly likely that the 32-year-old Miller may not finish his career in Buffalo. Regier pointedly told reporters last week that he would listen to offers for any of his players before the April 3 trade deadline. (Miller, who is signed through next season at a salary of $6.25 million, has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto a move to as many as eight teams.)
Though Miller ranks 37th in the league this season with a 2.92 GAA, Buffalo's porous defense has also forced him to face far more shots than any other goalie (887, 70 more than second-place Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets), and his save percentage is still a none-too-shabby .911. With a Vezina Trophy and the 2010 Olympic tournament MVP on his résumé, Miller remains one of the NHL's elite netminders, capable of backstopping a Cup run for a better team. But there aren't many contending clubs that are shopping around for a goalie, and with another year on his contract and the salary cap dropping 8% next season (from $70.2 million to $64.3 million), moving him may prove difficult.
Trade chatter has been lively, but teams may be hesitant to make moves by the April 3 trade deadline; the shortened, 48-game season has made it difficult for front offices to thoroughly evaluate their needs. "Internally, it's hard to get a read for what you really have," says one Western Conference executive.
Still, a team in need of solid goaltending—the Blues and the Coyotes, for example—would likely find what it needs for a playoff push in Miller. If one of those clubs comes calling, Regier will be answering.