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Canucks sign Ryan Miller to three-year contract

Tuesday, 07.01.2014 / 6:16 PM / NHL Free Agency 2014

By Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

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Canucks sign Ryan Miller to three-year contract
The Vancouver Canucks took another spin on the goaltending carousel by signing veteran Ryan Miller to a three-year contract.

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning was a scout with the Buffalo Sabres when they picked goaltender Ryan Miller in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL Draft.

Right before making Miller the 138th selection, Benning was asked to check with his agent, Mike Liut.

"I ran up to the stands, I asked Mike, 'Is this the time to take Ryan in the draft?' and Mike said 'Yep, this is Miller time,'" Benning said Tuesday.

Fifteen years later, it's Miller time again for Benning.

The Canucks are taking another spin on the goaltending carousel, signing Miller to a three-year contract worth $18 million.

A little more than one year removed from having Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo as their goaltending tandem, the Canucks went into the free-agent signing period with promising but unproven Swedes Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. They quickly targeted Miller, the premier goalie on the market, bringing him into Vancouver over the weekend and signing him early Tuesday.

"He is going to give our team confidence," Benning said. "He's a guy our team can rely on back there. Goaltending is the most important position on the team, so to add someone of his quality is great."

Knowing Miller from Buffalo made Benning's first big signing as Canucks GM easier.

"I have a comfort level with him for sure because I know he's a high-character person," Benning said. "He looks calm right now, but when he puts on the gear he is a fierce competitor, he is intense, he is focused, he wants to win. Those are things we want."

Miller, who turns 34 on July 17, brings needed experience to the Canucks crease. The Michigan native spent his first 12 seasons in the Sabres organization before being traded to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 28. There are questions about his level and style of play after struggling with the Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2010, the same year he helped the United States to a silver medal and was named tournament MVP at the Vancouver Olympics. He had a .929 save percentage in his Vezina-winning season but has a .916 save percentage in the four seasons since. Part of that decline likely involved playing behind a struggling Sabres team, but Miller got off to a great start last season, earning a spot on the U.S. team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics while putting up a .923 save percentage.

Miller was billed as the missing piece to the Blues' Stanley Cup puzzle after being acquired from the Sabres, but after a strong start he struggled down the stretch. He finished with a .903 save percentage in 19 regular-season games. That figure dropped to .897 in his six Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Blues, who were knocked out by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round.

"That is always going to sting," Miller said. "But as an athlete and a person you have to move forward. One moment doesn't define you. You keep believing in yourself. This is a great opportunity for me."

Despite his statistical drop, Miller has remained consistently above the NHL's average save percentage the past four seasons. He made $6.25 million per season in his expiring five-year contract but was facing a free-agent market with few teams looking for a clear-cut No. 1. Finding a fit on the West Coast was a bonus for Miller, who spends his summers in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf.

"Being closer to where we spend our time in Los Angeles is a nice bonus, but it wasn't something I went into this decision-making process that was going to be make or break," Miller said.

Some wonder if the Canucks should have been in that mix for a No.1 after Lack got off to a great start in his first full NHL season. He had a .925 save percentage when the Canucks shocked many by starting him ahead of Luongo at the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, a decision Luongo later said led to his trade to the Florida Panthers three days later for a package that included Markstrom.

Lack wilted at times while playing a Canucks rookie-record 20 straight games; he finished the season with a .912 save percentage and seven wins in his 16 starts after Luongo was traded. Limiting Lack's starts by bringing in Miller should allow Vancouver goaltending coach Roland Melanson to continue to work with the 26-year-old Swede between starts, providing the development time he missed late last season.

"I'm going to keep working hard, push for playing time and when I'm not playing I'll do what is best for the team," Lack told NHL.com from Spain, where he is vacationing. "Ryan has been a great goalie in the League for a long time and I'm going to try to learn from him."

The fit between Melanson, who likes his goalies to play a contained, patient game, and a more aggressive Miller is less clear. Miller admits he prefers more of a skating, rhythm game, playing at or beyond the top of his crease and frequently challenging with an active stick.

"I am always open to being coached," Miller said. "I am a little more stubborn in that you are going to have to really explain to me why it will work for me. I am going to push back. If they are a good teacher, they are going to push me hard and push back and explain why it's going to work, and we are going to have a great relationship."

Markstrom benefited from that relationship and a deeper-in-the-crease style late last season, but his future is unclear. The 24-year-old, who was picked 31st by Florida in the 2008 NHL Draft, will make $1.4 million on a one-way contract next season and has to clear waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League.

Vancouver cleared salary-cap space last week by trading center Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks and defenseman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Benning said the Canucks, who struggled to score last season, aren't done trying to get better, admitting they tried to land veteran forward Jarome Iginla, who signed with the Colorado Avalanche instead.

"We are going to continue to try and make moves," Benning said.

Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp