If the trade rumors are true, then the Buffalo Sabres are nearing a decision on where to send goaltender Ryan Miller. Looking at the NHL's membership teams, it's not hard to see why the Sabres are acting quickly.
The goalie market is competitive, with few teams at the top of the standings looking to fill starter positions. With only 31 regular season games remaining between Miller and unrestricted free agency, the ideal suitor is a playoff contender. When looking at the standings, no suitor stands out.
This, in turn, limits Buffalo's opportunities.
Miller reportedly wants to play for a Western team, and prefers a California franchise. All three clubs that meet that criteria are playoff teams, but all three also have their goaltending situations locked down. The situations are similar all over the map. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, the source of this latest round of rumors, isolated the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues as the most likely spots to land Miller.
St. Louis entered this season as the chic pick to win the Stanley Cup, but their goaltending is still a weak spot. They currently have Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak manning the crease, with Halak seeing the majority of the starts thus far. Both players are free agents this summer, so the Blues have the ability to offer an expiring contract in a potential trade.
Minnesota is a harder sell than St. Louis, because Backstrom has two years remaining on his contract, while Harding has one year left. To acquire Miller would mean the team is either adding him as a rental or looking to sign him long-term. Harding has been fantastic this season, but his health issues raise question marks. All things considered, it doesn't seem beneficial to pull from the roster to add Miller.
How much is Miller worth? Garrioch writes that the asking price is believed to be a a player, a prospect and a pick, with many assuming that manager Tim Murray will require a first-rounder.
For a small market, that seems like a lot to ask. One would imagine that multiple teams need to push for Miller's services to help cement Buffalo's asking price. Miller's ability to walk this offseason also doesn't help matters much. Miller is also limited this summer because not many teams will be looking to make a long-term investment in a starting goaltender (at least, not many playoff caliber teams).
It's not that Buffalo won't get anything for Miller, but expectations may need to be tempered a bit.
Are there other teams that could be interested?
The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have the most points in the Eastern Conference, and are probably the best team in the conference, but Marc-Andre Fleury's shaky playoff past and Tomas Vokoun’s uncertain future are big question marks. Pittsburgh made a hard push at the trade deadline last season and probably won't do it again this season, but added security in net could make them the league’s best contender.
Of course, adding Miller brings with it a serious level of drama that might be more harmful than helpful. From an outside perspective, Pittsburgh seems like a good fit. In reality, they'll probably be chasing forward help to replace the absence of Pascal Dupuis.
The Islanders have already made one trade with Buffalo this year, but was it the wrong one? The Isles are in 14th position in the East, but sit just seven points back of the final playoff spot. They’ve given up more goals than any team in the East this year, so it’s clear that goaltending is a concern. Evgeni Nabokov was activated off injured reserve on Monday and should help, but his play last postseason was only a bit better than Fleury's.
New York could use improved play in goal and Miller might be able to provide it. That is, as long as he is willing to play there.
All this in mind, Miller's situation could rapidly change. An injury to a key player or a strong showing in the Olympics could drastically alter the picture. Considering how well he has performed with one of the league's worst teams, Miller is once again a top talent in the NHL. Whether he will get to show that talent on a national stage in April remains to be seen.