The tides of change hit the Buffalo Sabres roster with a furious crash Friday night.
Steve Ott, the team’s captain and Ryan Miller, the starting goaltender, were traded just before Buffalo’s game against the San Jose Sharks at First Niagara Center.
With the NHL Trade Deadline looming at 3 p.m. on Wednesday and both players set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, Sabres general manager Tim Murray found the right deal was to be made with the St. Louis Blues.
For the two veterans, the Sabres acquired goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and another conditional pick.
At worst, the conditional pick will become a third-rounder in 2016. At best, the Sabres would hold the Blues’ first-round pick in this year’s draft. For it to become a 2014 first-rounder, either the Blues have to make the Western Conference Finals or they re-sign Miller.
Murray also confirmed that the Sabres retained a portion of Miller's salary in the trade.
It’s the first deal Murray has made since the Sabres hired him on Jan. 9. For a first trade, he made quite a splash.
“It's a fair size one, with all the what-ifs in it, conditions I guess if you will,” Murray said. “But it came together and we're happy with it.”
Both Ott and Miller spoke during the first intermission of the game and made a point to thank the fans, the organization and their teammates – both past and present – for making their time in Buffalo memorable.
Miller was selected by the Sabres in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL Draft and came up through the team’s minor league system. He struggled to hold back tears when speaking with the media.
“I thought I’d be a little more precise and concise with the way I’m speaking, but it’s all just kind of jumbled around. Very emotional right now, just hard right now,” he said. “I think it’s been 12 years with this organization and I am very excited for an opportunity to have a new adventure, to have a new opportunity. I have a strong sense that they have a very special team and they work hard.”
Miller has been the subject of trade rumors dating back to last season. It seems like he’s been preparing for his final game with the organization for some time now, but the news that a trade had finally happened still caught him a bit off guard.
“Thought about it for awhile and I figured this is about what would happen. Just kind of hits you all at once,” he said before stepping away from the podium.
Ott was acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Dallas in July 2012 and was named co-captain along with Thomas Vanek before the start of this season. After Vanek was traded on Oct. 27, Ott became the team’s sole captain.
“From my standpoint, it was a big honor to the captain of this team,” Ott said.
The two will now be a part of a Blues team that has aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup this season. The deal is contingent on the players involved passing physicals on Saturday.
“To have that opportunity to go along with Ryan, for myself personally, I know how great he is and both us want to live up to expectations,” Ott said. “And I know we’re both focused to do so.”
Miller was slated to start against the Sharks, but before warmups, the coaching staff was told by the front office that trades were imminent and that both Miller and Ott shouldn’t take the ice. The trades became official just minutes before the puck dropped.
That meant Jhonas Enroth would be thrust between the pipes.
All he did was make 36 saves en route to a 4-2 win.
“I was sitting in the back here joking around with the trainers about all these trade rumors and I told them, hopefully it doesn’t happen on a gameday, especially against the Sharks,” Enroth said. “But then three minutes after, coach Nolan came up to me and told me I was starting so I kind of jinxed myself there or whatever you want to call it.”
Enroth said he’s learned a lot from Miller over the years and relishes the opportunity to become a No. 1 goaltender in the League.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been sitting next to him for three, four years now and the one thing that really stands out when it comes to Ryan is his professionalism,” Enroth said. “He’s a true professional.”
Sabres defenseman Mike Weber has played with Miller for six seasons and grew up in the Ott household when he played junior hockey. To lose both teammates in one night was obviously an emotional blow to both him and the team.
“It’s one of those things, it never really hits you until it happens,” he said. “You always think you’re going to go on the ice with him one more time or play with him one more time or battle with him one more time and just like that, they were gone. …Both of them meant so much to me personally and so much to this team.”
Murray said earlier in the week that he was looking for the “proper trade” for Miller and thinks he found it in the deal with St. Louis.
And with the Sabres restructuring the roster, they likely aren’t done dealing.
“I've said all along that I'm just going to be in the wake of the GMs that want out players,” Murray said. “If they feel that we have a missing piece to their puzzle then we're going to be involved.”