DETROIT – With the NHL’s free agency period starting this Friday, the one thing Drew Miller didn’t want to do was explore his options outside of the Red Wings.
“I wanted to stay a Red Wing,” Miller said. “Obviously I’ve been here for seven seasons now and I want to be here a little longer. To me this is home and this is really where I want to be and to be a part of this team.”
Monday morning, Miller got his wish, signing a one-year contract to remain with the club.
While most players would be disappointed with such a short-term contract, Miller understands the challenges that general manager Ken Holland faced with a guy coming off reconstructive knee surgery just five months earlier.
“We settled on the one year because it gives me a chance to prove that my knee is there and ready to last a whole season, and then we’ll go from there,” said Miller as he left Joe Louis Arena on Monday. “I’m excited. I didn’t want to go to free agency.”
Last season was perhaps the roughest of Miller’s nine NHL seasons. First, the 32-year-old had to overcome a fractured jaw sustained during a December game against Arizona. Then, a month later in Anaheim, he suffered a torn meniscus and ACL, which ended his season.
Since doctors gave him the green light to begin working out and skating again in April, Miller has made great strides in his recovering. Without hesitation, the veteran fourth-line winger said he’ll be ready for the start of the Red Wings Traverse City training camp in September.
“The knee feels great and the progression of the rehab has been going exactly the way we had it planned out,” he said. “I have about three months left in the summer here and the rest of it will go the way we want it to go. My knee feels good right now and skating and working out and ramping that up and adding a little more weight and a little more intensity in the skating as we go.”
Despite missing 54 games last season, he has been one of the league’s top shot-blocking forwards over the past two seasons. In that time, he ranks 11th in the NHL with 132 blocks in 110 games, which is just 29 blocks short of Ryan Kesler’s 161 blocks in 160 games. Since 2014-15, Miller’s average of 1.2 blocks per game also leads the league.
Since the Red Wings claimed him off waivers from Tampa Bay at the start of the 2009-10 season, Miller has produced 51 goals for 100 points in 449 games.
The Red Wings have three other players who can become unrestricted free agents this week. Defenseman Kyle Quincey and center Brad Richards will not be brought back to Detroit. However, Darren Helm has been offered a contract, but the speedy forward has chosen to hit the open market when the bell rings Friday.
Detroit must also re-sign their restricted players, beginning with goalie Petr Mrazek. Forward Teemu Pulkkinen and defenseman Danny DeKeyser and Alexey Marchenko are also signing priorities this summer.
“The organization top to bottom is great,” Miller said. “I think we’ve got some good young kids who I know are gonna be aggressive here. With free agency I think the team they’re gonna put together, as they do every year, is gonna be fighting for a chance at the Cup. I want to be a part of that and I think I’ve made my role here and it’s one that I play and take pride in. I just want to get better at it every year.”