BUFFALO -- Ryan Miller left the ice from his 500th NHL game Friday to cheers and chants of his name by an arena full of fans. Saturday morning, the 32-year-old goaltender was cleaning out his stall in the Buffalo Sabres dressing room for what could be the final time.
As a disappointing season ends for the Sabres, a summer of change could be on the way.
General manager Darcy Regier would not use the term "rebuilding" at the NHL Trade Deadline, but he is trying to change the structure of the roster so the franchise is in position to become a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
That could mean trading away veteran leaders Miller and alternate captain Thomas Vanek. They each have one year remaining on his contract.
"I'm just trying to take the attitude where, I do have a contract that keeps me here," Miller said. "But if that contract is shifted somewhere else, I'm going to have to keep a certain level of excitement going for my own career. It has been about my heart being here and wanting to win here. I'm going to continue to play that way."
During the season, longtime head coach Lindy Ruff was fired and captain Jason Pominville was traded to the Minnesota Wild. Veteran defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr were also were traded (St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings), and with injuries and other roster moves, the Sabres became the youngest team in the NHL by season's end. The organization has two first-round picks and two second-round picks in the 2013 NHL Draft, and three second-round picks next year.
Buffalo struggled to find any consistency winning games and at 21-21-6 failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row and for the fourth time in six seasons.
Regier and president Ted Black are scheduled to hold a press conference Monday.
"When you trade your captain, there shouldn't be any surprise for anything that's going to happen. We'll see where this is going," said defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who signed a 10-year contract with the Sabres in the summer of 2011. "Personally, I definitely hope to have [Miller and Vanek] on the team next year because they've been really good players for us."
Miller is the all-time wins leader in Buffalo and has a record of 269-164-54 over eight seasons. Vanek, 29, is sixth in goals scored with 250. Each has spent his entire career in the Sabres organization.
"I'm not going to try and worry too much," Miller said. "If I'm here, it's a great organization. They want to win and that's something you look around the League, you know, everyone does want to win, but we have great resources here."
Vanek, Buffalo's leading scorer this season (41 points in 38 games), is well aware of the fact he is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Vanek said he has not had any discussions with Regier about his future or what direction the team is heading. Like Miller, Vanek remains open to staying or being traded.
"I've got a year left and I can't speculate on what [Regier's] going to do," Vanek said. "But again, I haven't talked to anyone. I don't know what the plan is, so I'm just going to leave it at that."
However, if it won't be a quick turnaround, Vanek said it's likely he wouldn't be with the team moving forward.
"If it is looks like a long rebuild then it probably makes sense for both parties to move on," he said.
Despite the team's struggles, Ehrhoff said he has no regrets about signing with Buffalo. He said he is confident ownership will do what is necessary, but would like it to happen sooner rather than later.
"Personally, I'm hoping it's not going to be a long rebuild which we've seen in Edmonton, for instance," Ehrhoff said. "Hopefully we can be back in playoff contention pretty quickly."