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What makes Miller the world's best?

by Brian Duff
Sitting on set next to NHL Network analyst Craig Button the other night, I felt the need to express my thoughts on the hockey world's seemingly unabashed, fast-tracked anointing of Ryan Miller as the best goaltender in the world.

While I consider myself a goalie junkie -- not to mention a big fan of Miller's -- I just couldn't believe what I was hearing.

How did a goalie who never has won the big prize, who hasn't even been in the playoffs the past two seasons (granted, through little fault of his own), get thrust onto the throne previously reserved for, in recent memory, the Haseks, Roys and Brodeurs of the world?

Was it because he has played really well for the Buffalo Sabres for most of his 56 games this season?

Was it based upon his Olympic performance, which was all of six games, two of them against Switzerland, one against Norway, and one against Finland -- a team that imploded so badly it was 6-0 U.S. in the first period before Miller faced a meaningful shot?

OK, he was really good against Canada in two games. We get that.

But two games?!

Is that all it takes now to elevate one's status from really good to best in the world?

Of course, the whole point of this exercise was to get a response, and Button's the perfect foil for anything of this nature.

He looked up and said, "Well, who is the best?" in a tone that seemed to suggest -- how could it be so definitive?

"Exactly," I said, feeling somewhat vindicated by his query.

We didn't pursue the discussion any further at the time because there about 10 games to focus on at the time for "On The Fly."

But his question has bounced around my brain ever since. And honestly, I'm no closer to the answer now than I was then.

Assuming best in the world means best, most consistent, most trusted in a one-game NHL showdown, we may as well run through the list of usual -- or perhaps in the case of this season, unusual -- suspects.

Tuukka Rask? Ask me in three more years.

Miikka Kiprusoff? See mention of Finland's Olympic implosion above.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. In fact, fellow NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes has the Finn atop his personal top five.

Antti Niemi? No.

Evgeni Nabokov? No.

Ilya Bryzgalov? No.

Tomas Vokoun? I'd like to see him on a deep Stanley Cup run, but that doesn't appear imminent.

Martin Brodeur? Based on his resume? Sure. But in all honesty, I haven't been overwhelmed by his play in an awfully long time.

Jimmy Howard? Still carving out a career, but a good story this season, to be sure.

Cristobal Huet? Next question.

So there's your top 10 in goals-against average.

How about the all important wins category?

Jonathan Quick? Far less proven on the big stage than Miller.

Roberto Luongo? Sure, he beat Miller in the gold-medal game, but I believe Chris Mason probably could have as well. To me, Luongo and Miller are very similar in career accomplishments.

Craig Anderson? See Quick.

Marc-Andre Fleury? Ding! Now just because the sound effects are in play doesn't mean he's the clear-cut answer. But based upon his most recent high-pressure moments, how could you not make the case that he would be able to upstage Miller for all the marbles?

Incredibly, we're this far along without having brought up the reigning Vezina winner in Tim Thomas; multiple-time Vezina nominee and 2006 gold medalist Henrik Lundqvist; 2009 Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason; previous save percentage king Niklas Backstrom; not to mention Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Then there's Cup champions like Chris Osgood, Cam Ward and Nikolai Khabibulin beyond them.

And at risk of naming 80 percent of the goalies in the League, I should stop now.

I really believe we are in an era where the Vezina Trophy could find a different home in each of the next 10 years.

Hey, we've already had three different winners in the past four seasons, and the only repeat winner never got past the second round. In fact, neither did the other two.

This just proves the point even further. Even the best over 82 games have had great difficulty in today's game, extending that over a further two months.

Ryan Miller. A great goalie? Without question.

World's best?

Talk to me in mid-June.
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