Goalie Ryan Miller (#30) of the Vancouver Canucks

No Flicker, No Fear

The speaker in TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” says at one point, “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,/I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker/And in short, I was afraid.”

Ryan Miller has no reason to fear. His greatness has not flickered, but he announced his retirement from NHL goaltending at the end of the season this week. Miller is currently with the Anaheim Ducks, for whom he has played since 2017-18. This is his 18th NHL year.

It seems like a long time ago that Miller was the goalie who was going to take the Buffalo Sabres to the promised land of the Stanley Cup they’ve been chasing since 1970, when they came into the league vowing to be the first expansion team to win the Cup. (That quest is long dead—Philly solved that in 1974.) And in fact, it was a long time ago: babies born in Miller’s first season, 2002-03, can now cast ballots for President.

Miller never had the luck to be with a Cup-winning team, though when he went to Vancouver, again, it was to lead a team to the silver chalice. He played there from 2014-17 after one season in St. Louis. Meanwhile, his brother, Drew, walked into Anaheim from AHL Portland and played three games in the 2007 Final to put his name on the Cup. Well deserved, but a signal how mercurial the fates can be in deciding who wins the Cup. The “other” Miller played 517 games and a decade in the League as a left-shooting left winger. His younger brother in net has played 795 games over 18 years. He has 44 shutouts to date. That puts him in 36thplace all-time.

Miller’s closest run to the Cup was two Eastern Conference playoff appearances, with Buffalo, in 2007 and 2008.

But if he doesn’t have a Cup, goalie Miller has lots of accolades. He got the silver medal with the US Olympic Team in Vancouver in 2010. The other side of that—he was the goalie that Crosby beat in OT to win it for the Canadian team. However, without his five wins in that tournament, the US team would not have gotten close to contesting for the gold. He played for Team USA in 2014’s Games as well, winning his only appearance.

Miller won the Hobey Baker at Michigan State (2001). He holds a Vezina Trophy (2010).

All of that not to mention being the most winning goalie born in the US—ever. This record he set in 2019 when he won his 375thgame to supplant John Van Biesbrouck. He has since gone on to more victories, and now, on the NHL overall list, Miller sits 14thwith 391 wins. Compare that to (other) future Hall of Famer Jonathan Quick, for instance, to gain some perspective. Quick has two Cups, granted, but his starts are 665, his wins 335 (and counting).

This all started as a fifth-round draft pick, 138thoverall, in 1999, by the Sabres. Amongst the three goalies drafted in the first round that year, 12 games were played: four by Bryan Finley, eight by Maxime Ouellet, and none by Ari Ahonen. The only other goalie with any success at all from the 1999 draft was Craig Anderson, 651 games played. He was taken in Round 3.

Miller’s record might be partly due to longevity, but who’s to say that’s a fault? Think about it: It’s easier to hide as a defenseman who ages and drops from the number one guy to the sixth or seventh. It easier to duck scrutiny as a winger who used to score but now plays a serviceable defensive game. But there’s only one goalie, and Miller is still good enough to play up to the level of the 21- or 25- or 30-year-old on the other end of the rink on any given night. To  achieve what Miller has, a goalie has to stay healthy. Even Quick has sustained injuries that have kept him out for extended periods, but Miller has been healthy for much of his career.

And in case you’re wondering what might have been had Miller carried on playing after this year, the 13th keeper on the all-time wins list is Chris Osgood, who had 401 victories. Should Miller have decided to play another year, even with modest production in a backup role, he could have jumped over Osgood, Grant Fuhr (403 wins) and Glenn Hall (407) to take 11th overall. That’s not his interest, obviously.

Cap Friendly estimates that Miller has earned over $62 million in the course of his career. His salary this year is a million bucks. To put that another way, according to Cap Friendly, his daily cap hit is $8621. The high career total is a function both of longevity and the fact that he was on $6,250,000 for five years running in the latter part of his stint with the Sabres.

As far as the game versus the Kings went on Saturday, his last in Anaheim, Miller got what his coach said the Ducks’ goalie of Friday night, starter John Gibson, did not—”run support.” This came in the form of a goal at 7:44 of the first period and then two within 36 seconds of each other during the second period. Those latter were each one-timers from the right side, the first by Danton Heinen and the second by, of all people, Nick DesLauriers. LA’s Cal Petersen had no chance on either of them.

Miller, meanwhile, faced very few shots in the second (four), and relatively few in the game (25). He wasn’t tested on any of them particularly. His most notable save was a glove grab on a two-on-one by the Kings and a shot by Sean Walker.

Miller did show some spunk when he chased after Brendan Lemieux after the latter crashed into him in the second period. He got a good old-fashioned knee in to the ribs of the fallen Lemieux.

And Lemieux was the player to eventually break Miller’s shutout, at 3:51 of the third period, by which time it was 4-0 for Anaheim. The Ducks responded with two more goals before the Kings put in one more with less than two minutes left in the final period.

The game concluded 6-2. Players from the Kings stayed around after to speak with and congratulate Miller, though the loss he had just handed them put them even further behind in their quest for the playoffs. With an OT point, the St. Louis Blues are now nine points ahead of the Kings in fourth place, and each team has seven games remaining. Of course, Arizona and San Jose also stand between the Kings and the Blues.

After the game, and buoyed by the victory, Dallas Eakins said, “You can see [the respect] by how hard his teammates played in front of [Miller]. You see it especially after the game when you see the officials, the other team, coming down to pay their respects to him and congratulate him on an incredible career. You don’t see that often.”

Miller has said a lot this week (see the Ducks’ website for clips), but he had a few further comments after the game. “It definitely was a different experience than I’m used to. I’ve always been kind of an intense player, so I told myself just to try to take everything in.” He mentioned that he wanted very much for his wife and young boy to enjoy the evening and get some pictures that they could use to remember the night.

Miller summarized, “It was nice to say a proper goodbye here in Anaheim. My time here was very special to me, and, I know it’s not the normal situation, but I just wanted the opportunity to say goodbye, and this is the runway I was given, a night like tonight; it’s pretty special, and I’m hoping to enjoy another game here, too.”

Miller likely will get one more start, next week in Minnesota.

 

Notes

Trevor Zegras scored his second goal of the year, and his career. He also had an assist and five shots on goal. He was slightly below fifty percent in the faceoff circle.

Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. One of his favorite poets is TS Eliot. But you figured that out already.