Botchford: Ryan Miller has landmines ahead in Vancouver
Intense pressure from fans and media, and a likely repeat of Goalie Controversy awaits the Canucks’ new netminder
The Canucks are a better team today than they were yesterday.
It seems easy to forget, but Ryan Miller is a good goalie.
Still. At age 34.
He is consistent and above average and has proven to be consistently above average on a bad team under siege in Buffalo.
He hasn’t had a save percentage below .915 in six years, and, yes, he is plenty better than the trending downward Jonas Hiller.
What Miller doesn’t have is any first-hand experience in what lies ahead in Vancouver. And there are landmines. Enough of them that it makes it easy to predict at least one of them is going to go boom.
Miller, who admits he had few, if any, other serious bidders, got his money, and at $6 million per year in a one-team auction, it’s a massive amount.
It’s even more when you consider the Canucks are set to pay $9.2 million for goalies this year, with Miler, Jacob Markstrom, Eddie Lack and Roberto Luongo all on the payroll.
Now, Miller must tread a perilous Vancouver landscape. It includes a rebuilding team which is going to struggle to score goals, and win games. OK, he’s used to that.
But this time it comes with an intense media which by muscle memory alone will regularly point it’s floodlight directly on net.
There’s the restless fan base which has historically been awfully impatient with goalies, to the point where it would surprise no one to see Miller get his first Bronx cheer treatment during his first slump.
Then, there’s the confident, headstrong goalie coach, Rollie Melanson, who will be looking to modernize Miller’s game, pushing him deeper in the net, and cleaning up what some goalie coaches around the league believe is Miller’s sloppy technique.
Word from St. Louis is that a similar process did not go over well when its goalie coach Corey Hirsch tried to tweak Miller’s game with similar alterations.
It seems, Miller cited those changes behind the scenes as one of the reasons he struggled with the Blues. By the way, Hirsch is no longer the Blues goalie coach, fired after his relationship with Miller.
“I’m open to being coached but I’m a little bit more stubborn in that you’re going to have to really explain to me why it’s going to work for me,” Miller said. “I’m going to push back. If they are a good teacher, they’re going to push back and ... we’re going to have a great relationship.
“I’m very open to any help I can get. I know I don’t have the answers for everything.”
Miller said he doesn’t know much about Vancouver’s rep as a so-called “goalie graveyard.”
But he at least noted he may have to change his disposition to handle things here. It’s something which took Roberto Luongo six years to master.
“I’m going to have to make a ... make a point of doing my job,” Miller said. “My job is not to get caught up in too much other than what I need to do to play well.”
Most of all, Miller will have to cope with life as a No. 1 goalie with a young backup playing behind him who is oozing potential and is ready now to be a starter.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Miller signing is a Jim Benning special. He originally scouted and drafted Miller in Buffalo and he contends Miller will help make the Canucks a playoff team. He even said if it goes well, he wants to sign Miller to an extension at age 37.
All of this should seem counter-intuitive for a team which says it needs to get younger, and then demotes Lack, who is arguably their best young player.
Benning said he believes in a succession plan.
“If Ryan is our guy who is going to play the majority of the games, I think Eddie can look to him as a mentor,” Benning said. “I think he can continue to grow as a goalie.
“Goaltending is a hard position. Goalies develop later. I don’t think you know what you have with a goalie until they are 26 or 27.”
Lack is 26, and set to become an unrestricted free agent in two years.
So, there are two ways this can go. One, Miller excels, and the Canucks continue to ride him into his sunset years as their No. 1 goalie.
Or two, Lack takes over the starting role before is contract is up.
Both roads lead to the exact same location — a goalie trade.
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